A top Chinese agriculture official backed measures to prevent farmland grabs in China, warning that the country's waning self-sufficiency
will make it increasingly dependent on imports to feed itself.
Chen Xiwen - deputy director of the Chinese Communist Party's
leading group on rural policy – said China had to better protect its arable
land, and boost farm productivity, to improve an agriculture sector which has
struggled to keep up with the country's booming economy.
China would need an extra 40m hectares of arable land - an
area the size of Zimbabwe and some 25% of the existing total – to grow enough
crops to replace imported volumes.
China, famously, has to support about one-fifth of the
world's population with less than 10% of global arable land.
However, current land rules have failed to protect farmland
for agriculture, a factor which, with the migration of as many as 230m farm
workers to cities so far this century, has undermined China's production
The comments come the day after China's cabinet voted to tighten
laws against land grabs, warning over the threat to food security besides its
impact on fuelling rural unrest.
"Rural land has been expropriated too much and too fast as
industrialisation and urbanisation accelerate," a meeting of the State Council
said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
"The government must make efforts to beef up support for
farmers and place rural development in a more important position."
And earlier this month, Han Changfu, the Chinese agriculture
minister, warned over the need for broad agricultural reform, given challenges
such as water shortages too.
"The next five-to-10 years are a key period for the
development of China's agriculture sector - with production factors like land,
water and labour getting tighter," Mr Han told the Communist Party
"Agricultural production is facing greater risks - natural
risks, market risks, security risks - and it is entering a period of high
investment, high costs and high prices."
Improving Chinese production would mean encouraging a "new
type of agricultural player and develop large-scale mechanised farming", in
contrast to the current sector predominated by small farms, relying to a high
degree on manpower.
The comments come as Hu Jintao, the Chinese president,
prepares to hand over power to his successor, Vice-President Xi Jinping.
'Story of their
China's growing reliance on imports has been highlighted by
data for the first 10 months of the year showing a near-quadrupling, to 1.98m
tonnes, in imports of rice, a grain in which the country has been largely self-sufficient.
China has been a net importer only seven times in the last
50 years – three of them being the last three years, according to US Department
of Agriculture estimates.
The country has also become a net importer of corn, and this
year a big buyer of wheat too.
Macquarie analyst Chris Gadd, flagging "strong demand from
China for high quality milling wheat", said that the country's "drive for high
quality wheat in China is a story of their economic growth.
"As their populous
becomes more affluent they have a greater demand for higher-quality baked goods
such as speciality breads along with pastries.
"This shift will drive a great requirement for high quality
wheat," he said, if downplaying expectations for wheat imports in 2012-13.