China Seeks to Protect Farmland in Battle for Food Security

China, the world’s top food consumer, is stepping up efforts to safeguard the nation’s grain areas as part of a drive to protect supplies at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting global markets.

Farmland designated for grain has been switched to different crops or used for other purposes, which could potentially threaten the country’s food security, particularly at times like these when the pandemic has interrupted international supply chains, the agriculture ministry said late Tuesday.

China’s corn imports are ballooning this year as hog numbers stage a dramatic rebound from African swine fever and after the government depleted state stockpiles in a bid to cool record prices. That’s sparked concerns that the world’s second-largest consumer could become the top importer, just like soybeans, where the nation now takes about 60% of global shipments.

Some areas in China have already seen a reduction in grain acreage, while in others, enterprises have used permanent farmland to plant trees or to breed fish, the ministry said. Some commercial companies have succeeded in contracting large pieces of farmland, but are growing non-grain crops, it said.

Grains Priority

“We have to stabilize domestic output by prioritizing grains production on the limited farmland available,” the ministry said. Permanent farmland should only be used to grow rice, wheat and corn, it said.

China is building key grain zones, consisting of large chunks of permanent farmland, with high-quality soil and efficient irrigation facilities. This is to ensure self-sufficiency rates of over 90% for cereals and 95% for rice and wheat, it said. The government will improve minimum purchase prices for wheat and rice, and continue to offer subsidies for corn, soybeans and rice.

The ministry’s comments followed a State Council directive issued last month to all local governments banning further shifts in farmland to non-grain crops. Local governors will be held responsible for these shifts, and crops will be monitored regularly through use of satellite remote-sensing technology.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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