Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Food security more than just quantity

By Li Chenggang (China Daily) Updated: 2013-12-25 07:12

It is always the top priority for the government to ensure people have access to enough food, especially in a populous country like China, Tuesday's central rural work conference emphasized. The tone echoes the annual central economic work conference in mid-December, which listed guaranteeing national food security as the primary major task for 2014.

Both conferences elaborated a national food security strategy based on domestic supply and moderate imports, aimed at ensuring production capacity and speeding up the development of agricultural science and technology.

Ensuring that China is self-sufficient in grain supply is extremely important for national security. China's focus on food security shows the central leadership has strong crisis awareness and attaches importance to people's lives and security.With a huge population, the importance of food security cannot be overemphasized. Catastrophic famines in the past tell how devastating they can be.

What is food security? Having enough accessible food in hand.

There have been studies showing that China's self-sufficiency in grain has plunged below 90 percent, but more detailed studies show that beans accounted for over 70 percent of China's grain imports. As a result, the country's self-sufficiency rate for major grains other than beans remains higher than 97 percent.

In fact, the core of ensuring food security is to realize the country's sufficient and stable grain supply. To reach that goal, a country can rely on both its own production and trade; but considering China's huge population base, decision-makers cannot take risks in this regard and it is much better to seize the initiative in grain supply. Therefore, highlighting domestic production for sufficient grain supply is a choice based on reality.

However, fast urbanization and industrialization have resulted in increasingly prominent contradictions between urban construction and preservation of arable land. Some local governments are using the urbanization drive for land acquisition, threatening to reduce the country's arable land to below the government's red line of 1.8 billion mu (1.2 million square kilometers).

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the country's grain output has increased by four times, but its population has grown about 1.4 times since 1953, while the area of arable land has continued to decline. Advances in agricultural science and technology have made the grain yield per unit area increase fourfold, but because of the increasing technical difficulties, the dividend that can be tapped through technological progress is limited. Without new technological breakthroughs, the risks to grain self-sufficiency will grow. Therefore, China's emphasis on food security and striving for self-reliance in grain production means protecting the existing arable land.

By emphasizing food security the central economic work conference proposed achieving absolute self-sufficiency in the supply of rice and wheat and basic self-sufficiency in corn.

The meeting also demanded related authorities focus on the quality of agricultural products, food safety, supervision of production sources and the wholesale process. By including quality of agricultural products into the category of food security, the government has emphasized the importance of food safety and food quality to people's livelihoods.

That means to ensure grain self-sufficiency, China should not only guarantee the amount of arable land, but also attach great importance to land pollution issues.

The author is a commentator with China Economic Times.

(China Daily 12/25/2013 page8)

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