Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Monday, March 08, 2004

Chinese people alert on grain security as grain prices rise

"How about the prices of rice in your city?" This has been a theme of interest among local netizens when they converse in cyber forums, as price of rice, one of the principal stable food for the people in China, has been somewhat on rise since last year.


"How about the prices of rice in your city?" This has been a theme of interest among local netizens when they converse in cyber forums, as price of rice, one of the principal stable food for the people in China, has been somewhat on rise since last year.

It reminds some Chinese scholars and government officials of a warning some 10 years ago by an American scholar named Lester Brown, who voiced his doubts about China's capability of feeding its own vast population.

Premier Wen Jiabao said in his government work report to the current parliament session last Friday that the Chinese government will exert itself for the protection of cropland acreage, halt the illegal use of farmland, and urge farmers to produce more grains, in an effort to secure the country's grain production.

Some famous Chinese researchers and people attending the current second sessions of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the 10th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) have responded to Premier Wen's remarks by calling for instituting a grain emergency mechanism, improving macro-control on grain production, and rectifying and improving grain circulation on domestic markets.

Yuan Longping, one of the prestigious Chinese agronomists famed for his success in breeding hybrid paddy and a member of the CPPCC National Committee, set China's alert line at the annual grain output of 485 million tons, but the figure reached merely 430 million tons last year.

Li Siheng, an established researcher with the State Cereals Administration, warned that China's grain supply might fall short strategically owing to years of lower yields, reduced state grain reserves and less grain stored by individual farmers. The country's grain output has been hovering around 450 million tons for the past four consecutive years, he recalled.

The 2003 was taken as a turning point for China's grain security, as per-capita grain output in the year was reduced to below the 350 kilogram-mark, the lowest per-capita yearly average for the past decade.

In China, grain supply had been insufficient in the 1980s, when Chinese farmers were encouraged by their government to increase grain production through market-oriented reforms. In 1998, the country's grain output topped a record high of over 500 million tons. The government has announced proudly that China, with the total national acreage of its cropland constituting only seven percent of the world's total, is capable of feeding the world's largest population, or 22 percent of the world's total.

The related saturated grain supply resulted in a drop in grain prices, which dampened to grain farmers' enthusiasm and local governments in some areas downsized the farmland acreage to reduce grain output to some extent. Meanwhile, with the expansion of extensive infrastructure construction and urban development and the rise of industrial and high-tech parks, grain crop acreage decreased by a big margin in the country.

Nevertheless, it is far from a grain crisis, noted Han Jun, an official of the Development Research Center under the State Council, who said the grain supply had maintained a balance between supply and demand. China had witnessed bumper grain harvests from 1995 to 1998, leaving a combined reserve of as high as 500 million tons, equal to an average annual output in grain stocks at present. It has thus laid a solid basis for the country's grain security, he noted.

Zhang Baowen, vice minister of agriculture, said the Chinese government is working very hard to increase the country's grain output to 460 million tons, with an increase of 60 kilograms per hectare for 2005, and a range of preferential policies will be issued to encourage grain growers.

Currently, the government departments concerned are working on the amendments of the relevant laws and regulations on land use, in a bid to protect cultivated land well and strictly, said Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the Office of the Leading Group on Financial Affairs of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.

Meanwhile, the NPC Standing Committee has begun revising the Law on Land Management.

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