China: drought fuels “peak wheat” fears

Rain and snow over the past two weeks, together with a huge irrigation effort, appear to have saved much of the wheat crop in northern China from drought, easing fears of imminent shortages. This winter was the driest in perhaps 200 years in parts of China, the world’s largest wheat producer. That prompted concerns last month that China might need to sharply increase its usually modest wheat imports—as world food prices are already surging. Global wheat supplies are tight after bad weather in other producers, including Russia and Australia. (NYT, March 7)

Agriculture experts in China warn that the frequency and severity of droughts have increased over the past decade, causing heavy crop losses and posing a potentially grave threat to grain security. Li Maosong, director of the Agricultural Information Office at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), said: “Catastrophic drought occurred once every five years in the 1950s and once every two years in the 1990s. But in the past 10 years it’s been almost every year.”

To feed its rising population, China plans to boost grain output to more than 550 million tons annually by 2020. Grain output was 546 million tons in 2010, compared to 430 million tons in 2003, according to the Agriculture Ministry. But experts warn that future yields could be endangered if natural disasters increase in frequency. From 2003 to 2009, total grain loss from natural disasters reached 303.35 million tons—more than four times the increase in output over the same period, CAAS statistics indicate. Grain loss caused solely by drought during this period was 185.38 million tons, according to statistics from the Ministry of Water Resources. (China Daily, Feb. 18)

China’s agricultural authorities have launched an inspection campaign to halt the illegal use of rural land, in an effort to stop the expropriation of farmers. “The illegal exploitation of rural land has violated farmers’ rights,” said Yun Xiaosu, vice minister of land and resources. “Thorough inspections must be undertaken to protect the land.” The joint campaign coordinates efforts of the Ministry of Land and Resources, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development. (China Daily, Feb. 18)

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