China vows self-sufficiency in grain production

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China seeks self-reliance in staple production, including wheat and rice, following growth in domestic grain output over the past decade, a senior agricultural official said Wednesday.

Currently, more than 97 percent of key grain supplies, including rice and wheat, come from domestic crops, said Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the central agricultural work leading team, a top decision-making body for agriculture-related work.

"The amount of grains China imports is not heavy," Chen said, when comparing imports with domestic grain output.

Official data on grain imports in 2013, including rice, wheat and corn, have not been released, but Chen predicted a moderate increase to roughly 15 million tonnes, up from 13.98 million tonnes in 2012.

Government data showed the nation's grain output hit a record high of 601.94 million tonnes in 2013, up 2.1 percent year on year. Around 90 percent of the grain output, or 541.75 million tonnes, was rice, wheat and corn, he said.

"On simple calculation, China's grain imports were less than 2.7 percent of its output," Chen said at a press conference in Beijing.

China's grain imports do not suggest lack of domestic supply, but rather the need for diversified grain varieties, he said. Meanwhile, the imports are partly due to more competitive rice prices in recent years from Southeast Asia due to production increases, according to Chen.

Chen said that currently soy beans account for the majority of Chinese grain imports, and predicted increases in corn imports to be used as feed and industrial materials.

Meanwhile, the wider use of machinery for farm work has greatly helped lift productivity. Chen said that 59 percent of farm work, including plowing, seeding and reaping, was done by machines in 2013, even though China's high-power machinery still comes from abroad.

Shadow on Production

Chinese top authorities on Sunday vowed the nation will make more efforts to ensure "absolute" security of staples and maintain grain self-sufficiency. However, the country faces challenges in meeting the target.

Despite consecutive bumper harvests, China's grain production is afflicted by strained supplies of farmland and water resources.

China's per capita arable land is only around half the world's average, and overuse of aquifers has been draining the country's underground water resources quickly, said Tang Renjian, also a deputy director of the central agricultural work leading team.

Tang said that soil contamination due to excessive use of fertilizers, farm chemicals and mulch film also weighs negatively on production. He said that China uses around 58 million tonnes of fertilizer, 1.8 million tonnes of pesticides and 2.4 million tonnes of mulch film per year.

Solutions to the problem include rearranging crop growth in some heavily polluted regions, converting overexploited farmland to forest, and more fiscal investment to mitigate negative impacts, Tang said.

"How to transform agricultural development and make it sustainable has become a pressing issue for China," Chen said.

A policy document issued on Sunday by China's top authorities is designed to address the challenges.

It said that China will enhance its national food security, deepen reforms and improve rural governance, and step up financial support and protection for agriculture.

The document, the 11th of its kind since 2004, detailed a raft of measures and reforms related to the "three rural issues" -- agriculture, rural areas and farmers. It aims for greater achievements in agricultural modernization and progress in building the "new countryside."

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