Ministry forecasts bumper harvest

By Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-12 07:03

The agriculture ministry is predicting a fourth consecutive bumper food harvest and expects to hit the annual production target set for 2010 three years ahead of schedule, its chief said this week.

Despite severe natural disasters, the country has already witnessed an increase in its summer harvest due to supportive central policies and technological improvements, Minister of Agriculture Sun Zhengcai said.

While the autumn harvest accounts for three-quarters of the annual food production, a solid base has already been laid as rice is growing stably and the total sowing area has been expanded from previous years, Sun said.

"The sowing areas for high-yield corn and rice have been enlarged significantly," Sun said in an interview with People's Daily.

The country has hit its food production targets for the past three years, pushing the total annual output to 497.4 million tons last year.

"We are looking to produce 500 million tons of food this year," Sun said.

However, he said there will be challenges to realizing and maintaining annual output at 500-million-tons, as set by the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10).

Dwindling arable land banks and natural disasters caused by global warming will provide the biggest tests, he said.

At the end of October, the country had 1.83 billion mu (122 million hectares) of arable land, 4.6 million mu less than a year earlier, bringing it ever-closer to the critical 1.8 billion mu warning level, according to figures from the Ministry of Land and Resources.

Most of the lost land went to construction, natural disasters and reforestation.

Lin Erda, the country's chief scientist on global warming, has said food output will fall by 5 to 10 percent in 2030 due to increased attacks by worms and unnatural crop growth cycles caused by rising temperatures.

Falling profits due to rising production costs is another factor that might discourage farmers, experts have said.

The profit per hectare for food fell from 5,730 yuan ($175) in 2004 to 4,800 yuan last year.

In addition to preventing the loss of arable land and implementing effective agriculture policies, Sun has called for more technological help to combat disasters, which hinder the realization of production targets.

The supply of food is a constant concern for authorities in China, as they try to feed one-fifth of the world's population with less than 10 percent of its arable land.

"Stabilizing annual food production at 500 million tons equates to self-sufficiency and will provide the backbone for the country's economic development," Sun said.

However, despite a current 97 percent self-sufficiency rate, some experts have said domestic food demand will continue to rise due to the expanding needs of industrial production and farming.

Cheng Guoqiang, an expert with the Development and Research Center of the State Council, said the self-sufficiency ratio of the country's corn supply, for instance, will fall from 97.4 percent in 2000 to 74 percent in 2020.

(China Daily 07/12/2007 page3)

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