What Lurks Behind China’s Food Crisis

What Lurks Behind China’s Food Crisis
Chinese farmers work in a wheat field in Chiping County, Shandong Province, China, on March 15, 2017. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Chen Simin

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has again emphasized the need for food security.

“Efforts should be made to ensure food security and strengthen food production year by year,” Xi said at the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) annual central rural work conference held on Dec. 28 and 29, 2020.

Xi said ensuring food security means that China’s food supply shouldn’t be controlled by others, according to a Xinhua report on the conference, But in reality, China’s food production self-sufficiency rate slipped to 86 percent in 2019—which is below the 90 percent safety line set by the Chinese regime—from 96 percent in 2013.
In 2020, China has bought 92.8 million tons of soybeans from January to November, up 17.5 percent year-on-year, and monthly soybean imports reached historically high levels for six consecutive months, according to data from China’s General Administration of Customs. Based on that rate, China imported a record high of over 100 million tons of soybeans in 2020.

In addition, from January to October, China imported 7.82 million tons of corn, which is at least 3 million tons more than in 2019. China’s total corn imports for 2020 are estimated at 10 million tons, and expected to further increase in 2021.

The regime claims there’s no food shortage and doesn’t allow people to hoard grains. Meanwhile, the regime has snapped up a massive amount of imported soybeans and corn. The data also shows that imports of soybeans, being China’s crop with the largest supply and demand gap, have been increasing year after year. China’s corn imports may follow the same trend.

CCP agricultural officials have claimed that the main reason for the spike in soybean imports in 2020 was the high demand to feed the country’s pig herd.

Although agricultural officials don’t treat soybeans as food, they emphasize that “the degree of dependence on foreign producers is extremely low.” In China, the main staple foods are rice, wheat, corn, and soybeans.

In August last year, a Chinese think tank released its annual Rural Development Report, which stated that “China is expected to have a food supply gap of about 130 million tons by the end of 2025.” Rice, corn, and wheat will be about 25 million tons short, it said.

In an interview with state broadcaster CCTV in April last year, Yuan Longping, a Chinese hybrid rice expert, also revealed that “China doesn’t have enough food to eat,” and “if other countries don’t sell it to us, we will be in trouble.”

While authorities keep saying that grain production has increased every year, China’s food security is still often questioned, and the loss of arable land is mentioned as the biggest concern.

China’s arable land is decreasing every year due to desertification and urban land expansion. Historically, to further economic development, cities have often taken over the best arable land. So-called experts have pointed out that despite the continuous decline of its arable landmass, China has maintained a constant increase of grain production per acre, meaning the utilization rate of arable land is increasing. The argument is that the higher the utilization rate of arable land, the higher the annual output per unit of arable land in terms of production technology.

The consequence is that this kind of practice exhausts the farmland and causes the quality of the soil to decline. In other words, China’s arable land isn’t only extremely limited, but the soil quality is quite poor. For example, Yuan invented the double harvest rice method, although rice output increased by only 2.07 percent in the past 20 years.

The Rural Development Report also pointed out that in addition to arable land, China’s food production depends on another important factor: manpower. It takes farmers to tend the land. But under the CCP’s urbanization policies, people from rural areas continue to move to the city.

The report predicted that by 2025, the urbanization rate across China will be 65.5 percent. Conservative estimates are that the migrant population moving to urban centers from rural areas will grow by 80 million. Therefore, the proportion of people engaged in agriculture will drop to about 20 percent.

At the same time, the proportion of the country’s rural population who are 60 and older will rise to 25.3 percent, or about 124 million people. The aging population will create another social problem.

While the CCP claims to care about agricultural production, the Party doesn’t care about the lives of farmers. The unfair treatment of Chinese farmers is well known, including against many who practice Falun Gong, a spiritual meditation that has been severely persecuted by the Chinese regime since 1999. Minghui.org, a U.S.-based website that serves as a clearinghouse on information about the persecution, has extensively reported on the CCP’s protracted suppression of Falun Gong adherents in China’s vast rural areas. Countless numbers of farmers have been forced off their land, with incalculable economic losses.

Take Jilin Province, a major grain-producing region, for example. Authorities in Jilin, which is one of the three major “golden corn belts” in the world, are among the most avid persecutors of Falun Gong adherents. Many local farmers who practice Falun Gong have been arrested, harassed, sent to brainwashing classes, and deprived of their contracted land because they refused to renounce their faith. These farmers grow corn and soybeans that are important to the country’s food supply.

Chinese internet users have often said that China’s food crisis is a combination of “internal and external troubles.” The internal troubles are related to China’s agriculture, rural areas, and farmers, and they are actually far greater than the external troubles, which are the result of broken international supply chains.

Looking at it from another perspective, the CCP’s concern about China’s food crisis solely stems from the regime’s need for stability. The Chinese people, on the other hand, are genuinely worried about a famine because they’re still traumatized by memories of the people who died of starvation during the famine caused by the CCP’s “Great Leap Forward” in the 1950s.
Chen Simin is a freelance writer who often analyzes China’s current affairs. She has been a contributor to The Epoch Times since 2011.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.