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Accelerate Transforming Agriculture and Bring New Driving Forces for Safeguarding Food Security and Food Safety


By Li Wei

Research Report Vol.17 No.6, 2015

It is important to firmly establish and vigorously implement the development philosophy of innovation, coordination, green growth, openness and fruit-sharing, accelerate transforming agricultural development mode, and foster new driving forces for agricultural growth.

“China’s Food Security & Food Safety Strategy Summit” is held every year since 2013. What has been accomplished at the previous two summits have attracted much attention from all walks of life, including the international community, and played a significant role in designing China’s food and agriculture policies. The Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, held in October 2015, reviewed and approved Recommendations for the 13th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development, the blueprint for China’s development in the next five years, particularly focusing on improving the quality and efficiency of development, and accelerating the establishment of the system, mechanism, and economic growth model that guide the new normal in China’s economic development. The summit 2015, with the theme of “Agricultural Development Mode Transformation & Growth Engine Succession”, reflects the guidelines of China’s new development philosophy during the 13th Five-Year Plan Period, and concentrates on the linchpins in China’s food and agricultural sector. It is my belief that the insights of all participants will bring refreshing enlightenment to the research of food security and food safety problems.

Our generation has profound experience of food security and food safetyproblems in China. The past several decades saw the change from food shortage to sufficient food supply in China, which has chalked up remarkable achievements in ensuring food security and food safety. At present, China’s per capita share of grain is 450 kg, higher than the world average. China has established a huge system of food collection, storage, processing, and distribution, making it much easier for urban and rural residents to have access to food. Besides, agri-food quality is gradually improved. The improvement in food security and food safety in China has not only laid a solid foundation for the country to deal with the challenges brought by reform and opening-up, and maintain sound economic and social order, but also has greatly contributed to poverty and hunger alleviation in the world and the realization of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

I.Three Prominent Problems

Honestly speaking, China has made a remarkable achievement because it supports one fifth of the world’s population with one fourth of the world’s food produced by less than one tenth of cultivated land around the globe. However, concerns are behind prosperity. It is clear that the foundation of ensuring sustainable food security and food safety is weak, and quite vulnerable in some aspects. Both the external market and internal allocation of factors have posed new challenges for food security and food safety.

The first prominent problem is that the continuous increase of grain output requires too many resources and does too much harm to the environment. China still uses the traditional way of relying on factor input to increase grain output. As for water use, the actual amount of water used in major grain-producing areas is generally more than the sustainable amount of water. And the efficient utilization coefficient of irrigation water is only 0.52, 0.2 lower than that of the advanced economies, suggesting China’s excessive consumption of water resources. Besides, China’s use of chemical fertilizer is 2.7 times the world’s average level, which has led to soil acidification in China. The cost of addressing the subsequent pollution is higher than the profit of increased yield. The unit area with chemical fertilizer is 2.5 times the average level around the globe. In general, land and soil in China have been overly developed, sometimes beyond the environmental capacity. With the overuse of chemical fertilizer and pesticide comes an increasing environmental and economic cost. If food continues to be produced beyond the bearing capacity of resources and environment, the basis to sustain agriculture and its development will be destroyed, and sustainable growth of future food production will face tremendous risks.

The second serious problem is that the domestic food market is more and more affected by the international one. In recent years, the state has raised the floor purchase price of rice and wheat, as well as the temporary purchase and storage price of maize, effectively promoting grain output and farmers’ income. As the internal and external conditions change, nonetheless, food price support policies face new challenges. Nowadays, the biggest conflict in the food market is that domestic food prices change differently from those in the international market. Food prices abroad are much lower than those at home. Starting from 2013, prices of primary agricultural products at home have generally exceeded those of the imported ones. Many food enterprises prefer to import cheaper agricultural products or substitutes, while domestic food with a high cost is purchased by the government with the aim to support food price, resulting in the growth of food production, import and inventory and causing huge food stocks and heavy fiscal burden. It is therefore key to adjust China’s agricultural policies to perfect the pricing mechanism of agricultural products, improve the system of food purchase and storage, and make use of both international and domestic resources and markets.

The third problem lies in the worrying food quality. With the difficulty to locate food quality problems, and the asymmetric information among producers, dealers, consumers and regulators, it is difficult for the government to implement effective regulation. In particular, with over 200 million farming households, more than 400,000 food firms, and some 3 million food dealers, there is severe shortage of regulation. We have to notice that food safety concerns also present in imported food. Influenced by factors like sluggish global economic recovery, depressed consumer market, and continuous increase of production cost, some food enterprises, in order to maintain their profit level, have reduced their efforts in quality control, resulting in frequent food safety incidents throughout the world. According to the white paper on the Quality and Safety of China’s Imported Food 2010-2014 issued by General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of the People’s Republic of China, the number of unqualified food imported from 112 countries and regions during that period was 1692, 1857, 2499, 2164 and 3505 batches respectively every year during that period, covering almost all food categories. Such quality of domestic and imported food fails to satisfy consumers with growing health consciousness.

II.Three Countermeasures

Confronted with new circumstances and challenges of food security and food safety, we must actively take measures, firmly establish and vigorously implement the development philosophy of innovation, coordination, green growth, openness and fruit-sharing, accelerate transforming agricultural development mode, and cultivate new driving forces for agricultural growth. What’s more, it is of significance to focus on both food quantity and quality, both the current and long-run development, both domestic market and international market and resources, so as to comprehensively improve food security and food safety.

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