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China maintains food supply despite falling grain output
( 2003-09-23 16:26) (Xinhua)

China has managed to maintain adequate food supplies despite a downturn in grain production over years, research by the State Food and Nutrition Consultative Commission (SFNCC) shows.

China's self-supporting level of food supply, measured by the proportion of general food production to consumption, was close to the world average, said Lu Liangshu, SFNCC president.

The research shows most food categories in China, including fruit, meat and aquatic products, but excluding dairy produce, had outpaced domestic demand and were produced for export.

Though lower than the general level of the developed nations, China's average food grain and meat production per capita ranked above most of the developing countries, reveals the research.

Lu said China was gradually increasing grain reserves, which was regarded as an efficient way to supplement the falling rice production which lagged behind demand.

Ministry of Agriculture figures show the growth of grain consumption exceeded that of production in the three years from 2000 to 2002.

Last year's grain production went up marginally over the previous year, but was still behind consumption. Output was almost certain to drop again this year, as a growing number of farmers had switched to more cash crops such as fruits and fresh vegetables, said a ministry spokesman.

The gap between grain output and consumption averaged 2.5 million to 3.5 million tons annually from 2000-2002, with demand projected to grow by one percent to 489 million tons this year, available statistics from the State Council Development Research Center (SCDRC) show.

But experts acknowledged that less cultivated land acreage and harvests over the past three years did not mean that China's food security was threatened.

China has historically kept large food grain stockpiles. The dual grain reserves of both the government and individual farmers helped ensure the food security.

"Thanks to huge grain stocks, China's overall supplies still outstrip domestic demand," said Han Jun, a senior expert with the SCDRC.

Nevertheless, Lu cited, among other factors, distribution problem, inferior quality of grain reserves for years, aging warehouses and other outdated storage facilities as potential threats.

With a noticeable number of needy farmers in outlying, mountainous areas in China's mid-western regions, food shortage among low-income families and individuals should be taken seriously in a bid to maintain food security of the entire country, Lu said. 

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