Ukraine and Russia are the world’s largest exporters of wheat, barley, sunflower oil, and other agricultural products. The war between these countries is expected to weaken the global food supply and drive up international grain and food prices.
Although the Russia-Ukraine war has disrupted the world’s food supply chain, this is not the only reason China’s food prices have risen so quickly. Another factor influencing the price jump was the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) harsh "zero COVID" policy to combat the pandemic.
Now that China is in the midst of its spring plowing season, the CCP's citywide lockdowns and zero COVID measures have made it difficult for farmers in the major grain-producing regions of the northeast to return to their hometowns and plant crops. Farmers are also incurring much higher prices to locate and pay for essential seeds and fertilizers. If this trend continues, China is likely to face a food shortage this year.
According to data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), grain production in the Northeast region in 2021 reached 144,456,000 tons. This accounted for more than 20 percent of China's overall output. If the 2022 spring planting season is delayed as expected, China's grain production and food security will be seriously impacted.
China’s grain production challenges are not limited to the short-term effects of COVID-19 lockdowns and deficient seed and fertilizer supplies. China faces multiple long-term concerns as well.
Liao Shiming, a Hong Kong financial columnist told the Epoch Times that despite the CCP’s continuing claims of a “bumper crop,” China’s grain reserves are in short supply. To address the shortage, the country has been snapping up grain worldwide.
On Dec. 8, 2021, CCP leader Xi Jinping relayed his concerns about the food crisis to the Central Economic Work Conference. He said, "In the past, southern food was transferred to the north, but now northern food is transferred to the south. In some places, a lot of lands were not even planted with food, but with flowers and fruits. So, what about food?”
According to Liao Shiming, “It was not until 1971, after the establishment of the Chinese Communist regime, that food production surpassed that of the late Qing Dynasty. Because food was the basis for the stability of the regime, CCP officials always claimed there were bumper crops year after year."
In China, people’s lack of willingness to farm is one of the main reasons food production is limited. One farmer from China’s northeast told The Epoch Times, "Nowadays, you can't make much money from farming, and you may even lose money, so who will farm? Seeds and fertilizers are so expensive, and the government gives some subsidies, but it's not enough to pay for the village's fees.”
Lack of arable land is another long-term reason for China’s limited food production. Although the CCP claims it has 313 million acres of arable land, more than the minimum area of land under regular cultivation—the "arable land red line"—set at 300 million acres, the actual amount of arable land has been decreasing. China’s media reported that Xi is concerned about this.
China’s conversion of arable acreages began in 2002 when the CCP launched a nationwide campaign to "return farmland to forest." Officials claimed the conversion would "improve the ecological environment." By 2019, farmers had lost approximately 23 million acres to forest or grassland and additional losses due to soil-related problems were on the horizon.
The Ministries of Environmental Protection and Land & Resources reported at least 20 percent or 58 million acres of China’s arable land had become contaminated. This was 133 percent higher than the 25 million contaminated acres reported in 2006. The specific contaminants included cadmium, nickel, copper, arsenic, mercury, lead, DDT, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Non-government observers like Liao Shiming once described China’s lush southeastern provinces as “economic growth engines." Now he says, "the high-yield land there has been largely industrialized and China’s new arable land is in the west. But due to poor rain and weather conditions, that land is unsuitable for farming.”