Survey Sounds Alarm for Grain Security

Concerned agricultural departments have been asked to take measures to guarantee stable grain production this year.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) made the call because more farmers are intending to plant non-grain crops such as cotton, oil plants, tobacco and other cash crops this year instead of cereal grains.

The NBS learned about the situation after carrying out a national survey of farmers' planting plans for this year.

The survey found that the acreage of land given to grain in 2001 will decline to 107 million hectares, lower than 110 million hectares, which is the publicly recognized warning line for grain security in China.

According to Cheng Jinsong, a researcher with the Rural Development Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, grain security is a comprehensive concept that includes the State's grain output capacity, grain reserves, the grain circulation system and consumers' purchasing power.

"According to international standards, growing acreage is just one of those factors that affects grain security," Cheng said.

The NBS surveyed some 67,000 households in more than 800 counties across China. It found that farmers plan to plant 4.6 million hectares of cotton in 2001, a rise of 14.9 per cent from last year.

"The trend is not a good thing for China, especially after the massive slide in grain acreage last year," said Huang Bingxin, an official with the NBS's Rural Sample Service Organization.

Due to natural disasters and the decrease in the planting acreage, China's grain output decreased by 25 billion kilograms last year, 9 per cent down from the 1999 figure, statistics from the NBS indicated.

"It's time for the government to curb the decrease or else the State's grain security will be threatened," Huang added.

However, Cheng with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences argued: "Even if the current trend continued for the next two or three years, China would not face danger.

"So far, China's grain circulation system is sound and consumers' purchasing power is stable. As such, in the foreseeable future, grain security will not become a problem in China," Cheng said.

He added that China's reserves and the grains already stocked by farmers roughly total the State's average annual grain output for the whole of the 1990s. He did not offer an exact figure.

However, he conceded that the trend will bring some negative impacts.

"I estimate that the price of grain will rise this year," Cheng added.

Both Cheng and Huang agreed that the increase of cotton planting is bad for China.

They said farmers are being driven by last year's relatively higher cotton price.

"China's cotton market are closely linked with the international market, and the latter is oversupplied at present so that the price is much lower than last year. So I conclude that it is not a good thing for farmers to grow more cotton this year," said Huang.

The survey disclosed that the acreage of oil plants, tobacco and medicinal plants will increase 1.6 per cent, 4.9 per cent and 30.6 per cent respectively.


People's Daily Online ---