Archive for February 25th, 2014

25/02/2014

Can the World Feed China?

Human Wrongs Watch

By Lester R. Brown*

February 25, 2014 — Overnight, China has become a leading world grain importer, set to buy a staggering 22 million tons in the 2013–14 trade year, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture projections. As recently as 2006—just eight years ago—China had a grain surplus and was exporting 10 million tons. What caused this dramatic shift?

China from the East, drawn by Richard Edes Harrison. Source: David Rumsey Map Collection, list no 1970.026. Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Full color shaded relief map. Includes text, inset maps showing Migration of Chinese universities. 35x56cm. From the atlas "Look at the World: the Fortune Atlas for world Strategy", page 38-39.  Source David Rumsey Map Collection, list no 1970.026. Author Richard Edes Harrison

China from the East, drawn by Richard Edes Harrison. Source: David Rumsey Map Collection, list no 1970.026. Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Author Richard Edes Harrison | Wikimedia Commons

It wasn’t until 20 years ago, after I wrote an article entitled “Who Will Feed China?”, that I began to fully appreciate what a sensitive political issue food security was to the Chinese. The country’s leaders were all survivors of the Great Famine of 1959–61, when some 36 million people starved to death.

Yet while the Chinese government was publicly critical of my questioning the country’s ability to feed itself, it began quietly reforming its agriculture. Among other things, Beijing adopted a policy of grain self-sufficiency, an initiative that is now faltering.

Since 2006, China’s grain use has been climbing by 17 million tons per year. (See data.) For perspective, this compares with Australia’s annual wheat harvest of 24 million tons. With population growth slowing, this rise in grain use is largely the result of China’s huge population moving up the food chain and consuming more grain-based meat, milk, and eggs.

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