Heavy rains began in late May, soaking wheat crops in central China. As the wheat grains turned black in the rain and became unsuitable for human consumption, the government deployed emergency teams to save as much of the crop as possible. in a viral VideoA 79-year-old farmer wipes away tears as he surveys the damage in Henan province.
Local officials say it was unusually heavy rain worst disruption For a decade’s worth of wheat harvests, President Xi Jinping’s push for China to become more self-sufficient in food supplies underscored the risks posed by climate-related shocks.
Ensuring China’s ability to feed its 1.4 billion people is a key part of Mr. Xi’s goal of catapulting the country to superpower status. In recent years, tensions with the United States, the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine have led to greater volatility in global food prices, increasing the urgency for China to grow its own crops.
The country has not experienced food price inflation at levels seen in other major economies, but officials are concerned about the vulnerability of its food supply to global shocks. Last summer, the prices of pork, fruit and vegetables soared in China, forcing the government release the pork from its strategic reserves to stabilize prices. Following this, Chinese leaders reiterated their call to prioritize food security.
In recent weeks, extreme heat has killed fish in rice fields in southern China’s Guangxi province and thousands of pigs in a farm in the eastern city of Nantong, according to local news reports. The fire department in the northeastern city of Tianjin was called in to spray water on pigs who were suffering from heat stroke while riding in a truck. Authorities have warned of damage to the wheat crop in the northwestern region of Xinjiang due to extreme heat and flooding.
In a country where famines have destabilized dynasties throughout history, even the ruling Communist Party knows that meeting basic needs is a prerequisite for political stability.
Last year, food shortages became a major source of unrest after the government imposed a harsh lockdown on Shanghai, a city of 25 million people, to control the spread of the coronavirus. Online videos showed fighting between residents on the streets and in grocery stores to snatch food. In nationwide protests against China’s “zero COVID” policies, protesters chanted, “We want food, not COVID testing.”
Already, agricultural land is shrinking in China, as rapid urbanization has polluted large swaths of the country’s soil and governments have sold off rural land to developers. The distribution of water between northern and southern China is uneven, leaving some crop-growing regions vulnerable to drought and others to floods. The war in Ukraine threatens China’s access to wheat and fertilizers. and the trade war with the United States that began in 2018 made it too expensive Buying soybeans and other food items from the US for China.
Mr. Xi has depicted self-sufficiency in food as a matter of national security, often saying, “The Chinese people must hold their rice bowls firmly in their hands.” He has set a “red line” that the country must maintain at 120 million hectares of agricultural land, and has declared war on food waste, particularly in restaurants. The Chinese government repeatedly states that it has to feed a fifth of the world’s population with less than 10 percent of the world’s arable land.
To create a more stable food supply, China has stockpiled crops and bought more agricultural land abroad. it is developing heat resistant rice varietiesgenetically modified soybeans and new seed technologies, an effort that has led to accusations of intellectual property theft from the United States.
An article on the front page of the People’s Daily newspaper on Monday said Mr. Xi had “special affection” for farmers and prioritized increasing their income. Last month, he visited a wheat field in northern China’s Hebei province, where farmers were attempting to boost grain production by growing drought-tolerant wheat varieties.
In state-produced videos of Mr Xi’s visit, local officials showed bread and noodles that can be made from new varieties of wheat. A local farmer said, “President Xi hopes that we can live a happy life.” Said In the video, “And we will work hard towards that goal.”
But a far more unpredictable challenge is weather-related shocks to the food supply.
“You can introduce more regulations to discourage local governments from selling agricultural land. You can subsidize farmers,” said Zongyuan Zou Liu, fellow of international political economy at the Council on Foreign Relations, a US-based research institute. “But when extreme weather conditions occur, it’s not only damaging, it’s also very expensive to fix.”
City flooded with record rain this month Married in Southern China. And parts of China, including major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, have already experienced unusually high heat waves this year, with temperatures exceeding 106 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas this month.
But the most recent fears about food security have stemmed from flooding in Henan province and surrounding areas in central China, which produces more than three-quarters of the country’s wheat.
“During the harvest season, what wheat farmers fear most is prolonged rains,” said Zhang Hongzhou, a researcher studying China’s food strategy at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “It’s happening at the worst possible time.”
As the farmers were preparing to start this year’s crop, it rained, allowing some of the wheat to germinate. This low-quality wheat is unsuitable for processing into flour and is usually sold at a low price as animal feed.
It is still not clear how much damage has been done to the crop this year. Analysts say lower wheat yields could force China to import more wheat this year and push up global grain prices.
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of wheat. Along with incomes, demand has also increased as people in cities buy more western-style breads and sweets. The growing consumption of meat in China has also led to a need for more wheat, which is used for animal feed.
In response to the rain in Henan, the Chinese government Was granted the right 200 million yuan, or about $28 million, in disaster relief to help dry wet grain and clear soaked fields. Rural officials Set up a 24-hour hotline for farmers urged local governments Finding corporate buyers for damaged wheat that is still edible.
State media outlets have said the government’s efforts have reduced farmers’ losses, with a recent front-page article in the People’s Daily newspaper touting the crop’s progress. State broadcaster CCTV aired a 15-minute video segment in which government officials are warning farmers to harvest early.
China’s fixation on food security has global implications, largely because it holds vast stockpiles of food, including what the US Department of Agriculture estimates is about half of the world’s wheat reserves. Last year, US officials accused China of amassing food stockpiles and driving up global food prices, especially in poor countries. China in response United States blamed Inciting a global food crisis, saying that US sanctions against Russia were hurting wheat exports to African countries.
The stability of China’s food supply is difficult to assess because information about the exact quantity and quality of its crop stocks is treated as a state secret. However, for example, analysts say the country’s official data regularly shows record high wheat production. questioned data reliability.
But in January 2022, the government presented a rare glimpse.
In response to Western accusations that China is hoarding food, a comment published The Economic Daily, a state-controlled newspaper, revealed that China had enough wheat and rice reserves to feed its people for at least 18 months, which the article suggested was a reasonable amount. There is a store.
The commentary said, “Being prepared for the unexpected is a principle of governing a nation.”
Zixu Wang Contributed to research.