The government supports the development of biofuel but not from grain, a
senior agriculture planning official said yesterday.
The Ministry of Agriculture is piloting production of biofuel derived from
non-grain crops, but has no plans to expand acreage of corn a major raw material
for biofuel next year.
It was the first time the ministry has explicitly stated its policy on
production of biofuel, whose surging demand has contributed to recent price
hikes in the food market.
"We have a principle with regard to biofuel: it should neither be at the cost
of foodgrains for people's consumption nor should it compete with grain crops
for cultivated land," Yang Jian, director of the ministry's development planning
department, told China Daily.
Yang made it clear that his ministry did not support using corn, or any other
grain crops, as raw material to produce biofuel.
"There is a growing demand for corn, especially for feeding livestock," he
In addition to being used as food, 72 per cent of China's corn yield is used
in animal feed; if the crop is used for other purposes, the sector will be
affected, he said.
But since biofuel can help raise farmers' income and quench the thirst for
cleaner energy, the ministry encourages them to grow sorghum, cassava and other
non-grain crops on slopes and patches that are unfit for grain production, he
Biofuel is fuel such as ethanol and methane produced from renewable
biological resources. In China, corn contributes around three-fourths of the raw
material for making ethanol, whose output is estimated at 1.3 million tons this
year. Last year, the country used 48 million tons of gasoline.
The country plans to substantially raise the share of ethanol and other
cleaner-burning substitutes during the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), according
to sources with the National Development and Reform Commission.
The ministry has designated some acreage in East China's Shandong Province
and Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to produce sweet sorghum
this year for the making of biofuel, Yang said.
"They are producing biofuel on a small scale and on a trial basis," he said,
adding the ministry has also approved projects to develop fine seeds of other
non-grain strains to feed biofuel production.
Wang Xiaobing, an official with the ministry's crops cultivation department,
said developing biofuel is a global trend; it helps expand the space for
"In China, the first thing is to provide food for its 1.3 billion people, and
after that, we will support biofuel production."
Poor harvests in key producing countries and a fast-growing demand for
biofuel production have driven up global grain prices, the Food and Agriculture
Organization said in its latest Food Outlook report.
Both Yang and Wang confirmed China's grain output is expected to exceed 490
million tons this year, the third consecutive bumper harvest. Last year, the
output was 484 million tons.
"The central government has continued its robust support for the agricultural
sector this year, which has helped farmers focus on grain production," Wang
Despite being continuously encroached upon by development in many regions,
the country's grain-producing farmland has been expanded by 1.06 million
hectares to 105.3 million hectares this year, thanks to efforts to reclaim idle
farmland and increase multiple cropping, he said.
Yang said he hoped the recent price surges in the food market do not send
wrong signals to local government officials, who may think farmers would
automatically increase grain production area.
"Compared with cash crops, the returns from grain production are low," Yang
said. "Therefore, we should never relax our efforts to focus on grain production
by ensuring there is enough acreage and improving per-unit output."
Arable land shrunk by 8 million hectares between 1999 and 2005, and the
ministry predicted that through 2010, the total grain-producing land area will
decrease by 0.18 per cent annually.
(China Daily 12/18/2006 page1)