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China’s Food Insecurity Dilemma

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

1.4 billion people's food security is a nightmare for governments and leaders, but it is a crucial responsibility for the Chinese government. China must maintain food security for its citizens, which it has been doing admirably through wars, shortages, and a pandemic.

Image Graphics by Team Geostrata

While food prices increased globally by 25.2% in the first half of 2022, China's domestic increase was just a negligible 0.4%, allowing it to maintain a greater level of food security than the global average. To answer the question of whether China is managing its food crisis well is not as none of these successes presented above come at a cheap price to China. China's investments in agricultural lands abroad do not imply that the country is self-sufficient in the agricultural industry. Through this article, I aim to deliver the reason behind China’s insecurity of food.

As global nations tackle the growing food shortages and price hikes, like many other nations China too has launched various policies to ensure higher agricultural productivity, taken steps to conserve its rich resources, and entered into numerous partnerships with the public sector and ensured their support to Chinese farmers. But all these seem to not solve China’s insecurity related to food. It is one of the major reasons why China has been obsessing over its food policy.

The reason why China is desperately making attempts to attain self-sufficiency in this field too, is due to the major Chinese dependency on food imports. For instance, nearly 80% of soybeans Chinese consumers consume are imported, or beef, as China is the second largest importer of beef from the U.S. and even other food commodities such as oilseeds which form an essential part of the Chinese diet. The primary reason attributed to this dependency is the excess demand from both households and the commercial sector, lack of fertile soil and other necessary agriculturally suitable conditions, corruption, and mismanagement of reserves leading to a fall in the output of such products.

But this still does not explain the Chinese government's international land acquisition spree. As compared to its western counterparts such as the U.K. and the U.S.A., China is acquiring land abroad faster, primarily in forests and agricultural areas. It has been expanding its agricultural base with the help of domestic companies in Asia, Africa, Russia, and recently even the United States.

This spree is a result of the current uncertain global political climate. The changing geopolitical environment consisting of political uprising, invasions, and global crises such as the pandemic along with inflation in the price of food commodities across the globe leave no option for China than to suit itself to newer alternatives to feed its overgrowing population. Global warming, over-industrialization, and urbanisation are also resulting in China's natural resources being unable to, if not now, then certainly in the future, meet the needs of its people.

Taking a closer look would suggest that these issues are faced by nearly all governments whether big or small, so what makes China special? The reason for China’s anxiety and fear is its strained relations with many developed and soon-to-be developed nations which are even some of the biggest granaries. The global mishandling of relations is costing China a heavy bill as it is left with no alternative but to safeguard its sources.

China’s lack of influence and integrated policies on trade is now the reason behind these investments. These land acquisitions abroad are the only way now China seems to uphold the growing demands of its people. In other words, China’s self-sufficiency in terms of food resources comes from its acquiring foreign nations' land resources due to its unstable relations globally.

The fragile nature of China, both on the domestic and international front is the reason behind such hyperactive steps taken by the Chinese government to solidify its supply. A minor shortage of food is enough to send China into major political disorder as ensuring food supply is an essential need for a state with a fragile state of affairs.

A 20-fold increase in Chinese farmland ownership in the U.S. from 2010 to 2020, suggests the Chinese desperation and fear of being left alone in case of a worldwide food shortage or inflation in food prices. Hence, the Chinese government's decision to acquire farmland abroad is a strategic policy to safeguard its food imports, but probably a laid-back effort to repair or reconstruct good foreign relations.




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