The People’s Republic of China is home to nearly 1.4 billion individuals, it should not come as a surprise that maintaining such a massive population requires an equally enormous supply of food. In the past, this was not a problem, as a large percentage of the Chinese populace lived and worked on farms. Commercial farming was uncommon as the majority of agriculture was dominated by small, independent farmers.
However, during the latter half of the 20th century this all began to change. As China’s infrastructure and industry modernized, people left the toil of the fields to pursue new lives in the city. In fact, from 1982 to 2010 the Chinese population increased by nearly a third; yet, the rural population of 790 million decreased to around 710 million (1). The Chinese government is currently struggling to garner enough manpower to support their agricultural industry.
Guaranteeing stable food supply for its people is one of the top goals of the current Communist Party in China. This begs the question of whether or not China should attempt to remain self-sufficient, or keep playing a major role in international grain trade. If China is to remain primarily self-sufficient, then the continued mechanization of their agriculture is a must. Due to the fact that the majority of farm land in China is owned by small farmers, this task is rather difficult. These farmers are often hesitant to sell their land even though they can find better work elsewhere. To tackle this issue, the government has issued $3.7 billion in subsidies for agricultural machinery in 2016 (2). These actions by the government are to ensure that modern farming machines are affordable for all farmers across the country.
As of 2015 mechanization of wheat and rice harvesting increased to 90% and 60% respectively, leading to record amounts in both grains (2). Total wheat production in 2015 reached 126.2 million tons, up from 121.9 million tons the year before (3). Additionally, rice totals were measured at 144.5 million tons, up from 142.5 million tons the year prior (3).
However, despite the mechanization of corn harvesting and near record yields in 2015, China is still a net importer of the crop. Similarly, China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans at 74.5 million tons in 2015 and has seemingly given up on being independent in that regard (3).
The Chinese government’s end goal is for all domestic grains, excluding soybeans, to account for at least 95% of its people’s consumption (4). This means that China’s wheat and rice production will continue to modernize over the coming years in order to meet the expanding domestic need for those grains. As for corn, it seems as if China will likely not be able to produce enough corn for itself and will remain a major player on international grain market into the future. The Chinese government is attempting to avoid a repeat of what has happened in the soybean trade over the last decade or so. To counteract this, China is trying to become drastically less dependent on imports, especially from the United States. In 2010, the United States accounted for 97% of all Chinese corn imports; currently, the United States accounts for under 4% (5). Soybeans will likely stay China’s largest import as the government has embraced the global market for the grain.
For a country as large as China, complete self-sufficiency is nothing more than a pipe dream. Today, the international market is much friendlier towards Chinese interests than it was thirty years ago and China is looking to take advantage of this. However, at the same time, China is trying to remain as self-reliant as possible. If China continues to expand and modernize its agricultural industry at this rate, it could possibly replace the United States as the global leader in agriculture over the coming decades.
(1) Stanaway, D., & Shuping, N. (2012, November 14). Analysis: China turns to machines as farmers seek fresh fields. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-agriculture-mechanisation-idUSBRE8AC15P20121114
(2) Increasing Demand for High-Capacity Machinery Predicted to Augment the Global Haying and Forge Machinery Market Until 2020, Says Technavio. (2016, July 7). Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.businesswire.com/news/financialpost/20160707005021/en/Increasing-Demand-High-Capacity-Machinery-Predicted-Augment-Global
(3) Lyddon, C. (2015, April 9). Focus on China 2015 | World Grain. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.world-grain.com/Departments/Country-Focus/Country-Focus-Home/Focus-on-China-2015.aspx
(4) Yap, C. (2014, February 13). China Sees a Worrying History Lesson in Corn. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2014/02/13/china-sees-a-worrying-history-lesson-in-corn/
(5) Yap, C. (2015, July 21). China’s Corn Strategy Turns Bear Market on Its Ear. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/07/21/chinas-corn-strategy-turns-bear-market-on-its-ear/
Image: © Chinahbzyx | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-celery-cultivation-plantation-china-qinhuangdao-image30707791#res14972580">Celery cultivation in a plantation, China</a>