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Food security initiative released
By Hu Yinan (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-04-22 07:47

Details of an initiative aimed at strengthening food security for East Asian countries were released in Beijing yesterday, as China expands its role in addressing the region's crop crisis.

The initiative, which calls for the creation of an early-warning system on food safety as well as the expansion of food trade and opposes trade protectionism within the region, is expected to be signed today at the end of the first annual roundtable on East Asia food security.

Global food security is faced with not only traditional pressures, but also new challenges - climate change, over-development of bio-energy and the deepening economic crisis, Vice-Minister of Agriculture Chen Xiaohua said.

The roundtable, organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, is "of particular importance" in upgrading the region's comprehensive food productivity, furthering regional cooperation, and ultimately guaranteeing food security, Chen said.

The economic outlook this year still remains uncertain, Victoria Sekitoleko, Food and Agriculture Organization's representative in China, Mongolia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, warned.

ASEAN countries, among the biggest victims of the global food price hike, have much to gain through collaboration, according to Wang Haifeng, director of the National Development and Reform Commission's international economy division.

Improving farming efficiency, increasing the use of renewable energy sources and lowering vulnerability to risks should be the primary focuses of cooperation among ASEAN nations in terms of food security, Wang said.

To this end, China has vowed to provide 300,000 tons of rice for the emergency East Asia rice reserve as well as build demonstration fields for quality and high-yield crops in ASEAN countries and conduct training courses of practical agricultural technology.

A three-month nationwide check of China's grain stocks - the first since 2001 - began earlier this month.

China's biggest challenge today is to satisfy increasing needs with decreasing resources, said Ke Bingsheng, head of China Agricultural University.

"Our food demand increases by about 1 percent per year. That translates into more than 5 million tons of crops," Ke said, adding: "There will be no food crisis for China in the short and mid-term. The long-term food security will depend on the protection of farmland."

China still heavily relies on imports for some agricultural products. "Soybeans alone, for example, would drag our grain self-sufficiency rate down to around 90 percent," Ke said.

China has maintained 95 percent grain self-sufficiency for more than a decade.

(China Daily 04/22/2009 page3)