Grain Production in China

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-21 09:11
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 China’s grain production recorded five years of consecutive growth during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), with total output exceeding the 500 million ton mark for four consecutive years during this period. This breakthrough became a highlight of China’s social and economic development. In 2010, China’s grain output grew to a record high of 546.4 million tons. With this increase in capacity, China will be in a stronger position to meet market demand, respond to various risks and challenges, and maintain the steady and rapid development of its society and economy. 

 The Twelfth Five-Year Plan is a crucial period in which China will seek to transform its pattern of economic development. It will also be a period of opportunity in which efforts will be stepped up to modernize agriculture. During the Fifth Plenary Session of the Seventeenth CPC Central Committee, the Party explicitly identified food security as one of China’s number one priorities. In response, we have analyzed the situation confronting grain production in China, identified pressing issues that need to be resolved in order to boost production, and, on this basis, proposed the fundamental approaches that need to be taken in order to achieve this goal. 

 I. Self-sufficiency is paramount

 For a developing country with a population of 1.3 billion, nothing is more important than food security. We should look at China’s food security from the following two aspects:

 First, grain is the key to national stability. Feeding the population has always been a prerequisite of social harmony; this is something that should never be taken lightly. With unremitting efforts, China has made incredible achievements in grain production, feeding nearly 21% of the world’s population with less than 9% of the world’s arable land. This success represents a major contribution to world food security. However, as China continues to undergo rapid industrialization and urbanization, we must be aware that population growth, urban expansion, rising consumer spending, and industrial demand are driving up rigid demand for grain. At present, China is recording a net population growth of over 7 million per year; in addition, China’s urban population is growing by 10 million every year, with an additional 5 million rural migrant workers entering urban areas in search of work every year. These trends are causing the demand for grain to increase by 3.5 million to 4 million tons every year. Moreover, increasing levels of consumer spending are fueling increased demand for vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs and milk, the production of which requires high-quality farmland and additional grain. Whether directly or indirectly, this trend is leading to increased grain consumption. Meanwhile, resource constraints, such as the loss of arable land and water shortages, are also becoming increasingly serious, and we are still living at the mercy of the elements. Therefore, with a strong sense of urgency, we must do everything in our power to increase our overall grain production capacity and strive to meet the ever-growing demand for food.

 Chinese Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu has stated that China must be self-sufficient in grain production in order to guarantee its food security. / Photo by Xinhua

 Second, in order to ensure our national food security, we must adhere to the principle of self-sufficiency. This means keeping our rice bowls firmly in our own hands. Judging from the current situation in world food supply, we are in no position to rest our food security on international trade. The reasons for this are as follows: First, the world food supply is inadequate. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the world corn output from 2010 through 2011 was about 2.216 billion tons, while total consumption reached 2.254 billion tons, meaning that production is falling short of demand. Second, the capacity of the international market to regulate grain supply is limited. For example, the total volume of grain traded globally per year is about 250 million tons, which is less than half of China’s total grain output; the total volume of rice traded globally is 25 to 30 million tons, which equates to only 15% of China’s rice consumption per year. This shows that there are huge uncertainties and potential risks in the international food market. Third, the “large country effect” is prominent in China. Specifically, any rise in global food prices would lead to higher import costs. Moreover, considering the huge scale of China’s territory, procuring grain in the international market would be made uneconomical by the great distances and high logistical costs involved, even if there were sufficient supply.

 II. Basic principles for developing grain production during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan

 The core of our efforts during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan will be to boost our comprehensive production capacity while ensuring that the total area of arable land stays above the “red line” of 120 million hectares. This will be done primarily through initiatives to advance agricultural technology, increase output per unit area, optimize the variety structure, and formulate more policies to strengthen agriculture and benefit rural residents. On the basis of efforts to keep crop acreage above 107 million hectares, we will seek to achieve a boost in overall productivity.

 First, we need to stabilize total output and optimize our crop structure. Optimizing the crop structure will be an important means of increasing total output. By stabilizing total output, we mean taking steps to ensure that our annual grain output stays above 500 million tons and continues to increase on a gradual basis. Of China’s major crops, wheat slightly exceeds demand; corn equals demand; rice tends to fall just short of demand; and japonica rice is unable to meet demand. Rice is the major staple food for over 65% of China’s population, making it our most important food. The demand for rice in China is still increasing, especially for japonica rice. Therefore, we need to boost production of japonica rice, develop superior wheat varieties for special uses, increase corn output per unit area, develop corn varieties for special uses, and develop high-oil varieties of soybean. 

 Second, we need to stabilize crop acreage and increase our output per unit area. Increasing output per unit area will be an important means of increasing total output. By stabilizing acreage, we mean keeping the total amount of arable land above the “red line” of 120 million hectares and ensuring that total crop acreage stays above the minimum area of at least 107 million hectares. In order to increase output per unit area, we should rely on scientific and technological advances to breed new varieties of crop, upgrade low and medium-yield cropland, integrate various technologies, develop high-yield cropland on a large scale, and promote balanced increase of production on a large scale through demonstration projects. China achieved a good harvest in 2010, with output per unit area increasing by 6.9 kilograms compared with the year before. Moreover, this increase in output per unit area was responsible for 70% of the total growth in productivity for that year. This shows the enormous potential yield that China will be able to unlock by increasing its output per unit area.

 Third, we need to stabilize production in the south and increase production in the north. Increasing production in the north will be an important means of increasing total output. Traditionally, south China has served as China’s “granary.” However, in recent years this situation has changed. In the past, grain was transported from south to north, but now, grain is increasingly being transported from north to south. By stabilizing production in south China, we mean that we need to maintain the current amount of arable land, sustain the current crop acreage, and steadily increase production in areas south of the Yangtze River, and especially in coastal regions. By increasing production in north China, we mean that we need to expand crop acreage, develop water-saving irrigation, and increase output per unit area in order to increase grain output and the proportion of the total output that enters the market.

 Fourth, we need to stabilize production in major grain purchasing regions and regions where the production and sale of grain are balanced. In addition, we also need to increase output in major grain producing regions. Increasing output in major grain producing regions will be an important means of increasing total output. Of China’s 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the central government, there are 13 major grain producing regions, 7 major grain purchasing regions, and 11 regions where the output and sale of grain are balanced. At present, China’s 13 major grain producing regions provide more than 80% of the country’s commercial grain and over 90% of grain that is allocated outside of its province of origin. Firstly, it is essential that there is no let-up in major grain purchasing regions and regions where the production and sale of grain are balanced. These regions must maintain their crop acreage, output, and level of self-sufficiency. Under no circumstances should they be allowed to cut production, which would be to leave the task of ensuring national food security to major grain producing regions. In order to increase output in major grain producing regions, we must focus on developing core grain producing areas. We must make efforts to unlock the potential of suitable areas in order to form a group of well-distributed grain production belts that exhibit prominent strengths and steady production capacities. In addition, we should also make efforts to develop major reserve areas for grain production.

 III. Carrying out major projects to improve grain production capacity

 To gradually promote grain production during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, it is essential that we focus on boosting productivity. This requires that we enhance our comprehensive production capacity, our competitiveness, and our capacity to guard against risks. 

 1. We must develop all-weather high-yield arable land on a large scale. At present, 70% of China’s arable land comprises of low and medium-yield land, and only 48.6% of land is effectively irrigated. At the same time, the proportion of all-weather high-yield arable land that meets high drought and flood resistance standards is very low. Therefore, the potential that could be unlocked by upgrading low and medium-yield cropland is enormous. Upgrading low-yield cropland to medium-yield cropland and medium-yield cropland to high-yield cropland may increase output per unit area by 100 and 200 kilograms respectively. During the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, we will strive to develop an additional 26.7 million hectares of all-weather high-yield arable land and upgrade an existing 6.7 million hectares of cropland to meet high drought and flood resistance standards. We will focus on water conservancy development and the leveling of farm land; accelerate the construction of field irrigation, drainage ditches, power operated wells, small-scale water collection facilities, storage facilities, water-saving irrigation facilities and roads for mechanized cultivation; increase the use of organic fertilizer; and promote the transfer of crop stalks to farmland. These initiatives will help us to enhance our irrigation capacity, increase the fertility of farmland, and improve production conditions.

 2. We need to boost the scale and the strength of the modern seed industry. Seeds are a key factor in increasing grain output. Facing fierce competition in the seed industry, we must push forward reform and innovation during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan. We need to enhance the capacity of our seed industry to innovate, increase the competitiveness of our enterprises, ensure a sufficient supply of seeds, and conduct effective market supervision so as to expand the coverage of superior crop varieties and accelerate the upgrading of seeds.

 3. We need to launch a large-scale campaign to increase grain output. The Ministry of Agriculture set up 4,380 demonstration parcels for high grain output across the country in 2010. The average output of these parcels, each having an area of over 666.7 hectares, reached 9,840 kilograms per hectare, 4,800 kilograms more than the average national output. We will expand this campaign throughout all major grain producing regions and in areas with ideal conditions in order to develop counties, townships and farming households with a high grain output and forge a group of large-sized demonstration parcels characterized by high grain output, high-efficiency and standardized operation. These initiatives will allow us to increase grain output on a large scale.

 4. We need to control crop diseases and insect pests in a large-scale, coordinated, and specialized manner. Crop diseases and insect pests frequently occur in China. Of the 1,600 crop diseases and pests common to China, more than 20 have a serious impact on food security. The affected area of farmland reaches around 400 to 467 million hectare times each year, resulting in enormous food losses. By carrying out coordinated prevention and control, we will be able to reduce the use of fertilizer, the cost of using pesticide, the cost of labor, and the impact of environmental pollution. We need to understand that reducing losses is equal to increasing output. We should make efforts to train specialized personnel in the prevention and control of crop diseases and insect pests. At the same time, we need to develop new kinds of plant protection machinery and promote the use of green and biological prevention and control technologies. To begin with, coordinated and specialized prevention and control should be carried out in major rice, wheat, and corn producing regions, and thereafter should be gradually expanded to include all major regions and varieties. With the support of the government, efforts shall be subject to market forces and participated in by all sectors of society. These efforts will help to reduce the cost of prevention and control while increasing the effect.

 5. We need to provide vocational training for rural residents and develop new-types of producers and operators. The rural labor force is set to suffer as young laborers from rural areas flock to urban areas in search of work. This represents a serious challenge to China’s agricultural modernization. To address the issue, we should provide rural residents with vocational training via various channels, increase the availability of training, and accelerate efforts to achieve free vocational education in agriculture in order to foster a contingent of farmers that boast expertise in farming, agricultural machinery, science, and technology. Meanwhile, we need to develop producers and operators that are adapted to the needs of modern agricultural development, and should focus on the development of large farming households, specialized farmer cooperatives, and leading agricultural enterprises. In addition, we should also encourage rural migrant workers to return to the countryside and go into business with the wealth and the knowledge that they have accumulated.

 6. We need to significantly improve the standard of farming machinery and equipment. If we are to boost grain production and succeed in developing agriculture by means of science and technology, we will need a combination of fertile farmland, favorable systems, superior varieties, appropriate measures, and advanced farming machinery. Among these factors, advanced farming machinery is playing an increasingly important role in safeguarding food security. In 2010, the rate of mechanization in the planting and harvesting of crops in China reached 52%. This means that mechanized operation has now replaced manual labor as the primary means of agricultural production in China. We must continue our policy of granting subsidies for the purchase of farming machinery, further increase the amount of farming machinery and equipment in use, optimize the mix of farming machinery and equipment, promote the use of advanced and applicable equipment and technologies, and encourage various sectors of society to provide machinery related services. We should strive to promote the modernization of agriculture through an advanced level of mechanization. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.3, 2011)


Note: Author: Minister of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China

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 Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China

 The Ministry of Agriculture is an important component of the State Council. Its main duties and responsibilities include:

 1. To study and work out development strategies and long-term and mid-term development plans for agriculture and the rural economy.

 2. To study and draw up policies on agricultural industry; to put forward policy suggestions regarding prices of agricultural products and means of agricultural production, tariff adjustment, circulation of agricultural staples, rural credit, taxation and rural financial subsidies; to organize the drafting of laws and provisions on crop production, animal husbandry, fishery, rural and township enterprises. 

 3. To study and put forward suggestions regarding reforms of systems in the rural economy; to guide development of the system whereby various sectors of society provide services for agriculture; to guide the development of rural collective economic and cooperative organizations; to stabilize and improve basic rural operation systems and policies; to guide and supervise the alleviation of rural residents’ burdens and transfer of land-use rights. 

 4. To study and formulate guidelines and policies regarding the industrialized management of agriculture as well as plans for the construction and development of a market system for bulk agricultural products; to study and put forward suggestions regarding the import and export of major agricultural products and means of agricultural production; to forecast and publicize rural economic information regarding supply and demand of various agricultural products and means of agricultural production.

 5. To organize regional planning of agricultural resources, ecological agriculture and sustainable agricultural development; to guide the exploitation and use of agricultural land, fishery waters, grasslands, shoals, swamps suitable for agricultural purposes, and rural renewable energy; to oversee the protection and management of biological resources in agriculture; to oversee the ecological protection of fishery waters, aquatic wild animals and plants; to manage the inspection of fishing vessels and the supervision of fisheries and fishing ports on behalf of the state. 

 6. To formulate development plans and related policies regarding agricultural scientific research, education, technology extension and development of personnel; to organize the selection and application of major scientific research and technology extension projects; to guide development of agricultural education and agricultural professional skills.

 7. To formulate technical standards for various agricultural industries; to organize the quality supervision and certification of agricultural products and green food products and the protection of new varieties of agricultural plants; to organize and coordinate the quality monitoring and appraisal of agricultural inputs such as seeds, pesticide, veterinary drugs, and farming machinery.

 8. To draft laws and provisions on prevention and quarantine of animal and plant diseases; to organize veterinary administration and the administration and inspection of veterinary medical products; to organize and supervise domestic animal and plant disease prevention and quarantine.

  9. To undertake foreign-related agricultural affairs and organize related international economic and technical exchanges and cooperation. 

  10. To oversee the work of directly affiliated public institutions and the reform of enterprises affiliated to the Ministry; to supervise the value retention and increment of state-owned assets of enterprises affiliated to the Ministry; to guide related social groups for the benefit of the agricultural economy.

  11. To undertake other assignments entrusted by the State Council.

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