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Feeding 1.4 Billion People

By ​ Zhang Wufeng Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2021-07-08

The people are the foundation of the nation, and food is what sustains the people. Food security is an issue that bears upon the fate of our country and the wellbeing of our people, and is therefore a top priority in national governance. The Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee held 2020 defined food security as an important component of national security, while the central economic and rural work conferences held at the end of 2020 put forward plans in this regard. The outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan covering the period from 2021 to 2025 put focus on strengthening safeguards for our nation's economic security, and made overall arrangements for implementation of China's food security strategy. As we enter a new stage of development, we must remain committed to following a uniquely Chinese approach to food security in order to ensure that China's 1.4 billion people have solid control over the food on their plates. 

I. China has attracted worldwide attention for its success in implementing its food security strategy. 

Since the 18th CPC National Congress held in 2012, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core has made ensuring food security a top priority in national governance. It has introduced a new perspective in this regard with the focus on ensuring that China is largely grain self-sufficient and that staple supplies are absolutely secure, and established a national food security strategy centered on domestic production backed by the support of science and technology as well as an appropriate amount of imports. This reflects a uniquely Chinese approach to food security. National grain production capacity has consistently increased, distribution has modernized significantly, the supply structure has been further optimized, and food industries have raised their quality and efficiency. Food security safeguards have also proven strong, enabling China to effectively withstand the strain brought by the Covid-19 epidemic. 

The institutions for food security has been further refined. 

Policy and planning guidance has been strengthened, as exemplified by the fact that the first policy statements issued by the CPC Central Committee each year have focused on agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents for 18 years running. The CPC Central Committee and the State Council have also launched a number of fundamental policy measures, such as improving the system whereby provincial governors are held responsible for food security and establishing functional zones for grain production. Support and protection have been stepped up, with financial authorities at all levels focusing on agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents as a priority in the provision of support, while key projects for developing improved crop varieties, regulating food security safeguards, and setting up emergency response facilities have been launched through the support of funds in the central budget. Reform of grain purchase and storage systems has continued to a deeper level. Price forming mechanisms and market distribution procedures have been put in order, and the share of market-based purchasing has increased significantly. Finally, our emphasis on assessment has been brought to bear, with more rigorous assessments through the system of provincial governors taking responsibility for food security as well as assessments on the management of central grain reserves and the execution of food policies under the authority of the central government. This has ensured that local governments and enterprises contracted to provide storage assume principal responsibility. 

Overall grain production capacity has steadily increased. 

Total grain output has risen to new heights, remaining above 650 million metric tons for six years in a row. China has implemented an extremely rigorous system for protecting farmland, designating approximately 103 million hectares of land as permanent basic cropland, and approximately 73 million hectares of land as functional zones for the production of grain and protected zones for the production of major agricultural products. We have worked more quickly to improve our basic agricultural conditions, developing more than 53 million hectares of high-quality farmland and bringing the mechanization rate for the farming of main grain crops to over 80%. Meanwhile, science and technology has enabled intensive growth, with the contribution rate of scientific and technological progress in the agricultural sector surpassing 60% and average grain yield rising to 5.7 tons per hectare. As we have actively fostered new types of businesses in the agricultural sector, the number of family farms nationwide has surpassed one million, the number of farmer cooperatives has risen to over 2.2 million, and the number of organizations providing agricultural services has reached 900,000. This has offered fairly satisfactory answers to questions such as who should farm the land and how it should be farmed. 

Grain stockpiling capacity has increased significantly. 

We have made positive progress on tasks including advancing reforms of systems and mechanisms for keeping grain reserves secure, setting up an on-the-ground oversight system for central government reserves, and optimizing the structure and layout of reserves. The grain reserve system has been refined, with the scale of central reserves remaining stable and local reserves sufficient to supply the market for three months in net grain producing areas, six months in net consuming areas, and four and a half months in areas where production and consumption is balanced. In addition, 36 medium and large-sized cities as well as areas prone to market fluctuations have set up stores of oil and processed grain in certain amounts. We have also made improvements to storage infrastructure, building, renovating, and upgrading a batch of storage facilities as part of food security projects. China now has 680 million tons of standard grain storage capacity nationwide, and storage conditions have reached a relatively advanced level overall in comparison with the rest of the world. 

Grain distribution capacity remains solid. 

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Farmers race to harvest middle-season rice and ensure that every grain makes it back to the granary in Tianduan Village, Taihe County, Jiangxi Province, September 10, 2020. PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY DENG HEPING 

China established the National Grain Trade Center and 30 provincial-level trade centers, held three China Grain Trade Fair events, and took preliminary steps to establish a grain market trading system featuring coordinated development between various methods of trading including wholesale and retail trading, futures and spot trading, and online and offline trading. We have developed new and better means of macro-regulation in relation to grain, enhancing monitoring, early warning, and precision regulation, which has kept the grain market running smoothly overall. Grain businesses have also grown and expanded. Since the quality grain project was launched in 2017, 4,000 postproduction grain service centers have been established, more than 1,500 grain quality monitoring institutions have been built or upgraded, 389 counties have been provided support as model producers of quality grain and edible oil, and a number of relatively well-recognized regional grain brands have emerged. 

International cooperation on food-related issues has been strengthened across the board. 

China has made effective use of domestic and international markets and resources, and addressed surpluses and shortages of certain products by adjusting imports appropriately. We have promoted international cooperation in the field of food, signing more than 120 agreements on cooperation in the agricultural sector with more than 60 countries and international organizations. Furthermore, acting on the spirit of the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, we signed a memorandum with the African Union on providing assistance to African countries to reduce post-production spoilage of grain. We have actively participated in global food security governance and implemented the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, making positive contributions to protecting global food security and promoting shared development. 

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A visitor looks around at seeds and agricultural implements at the Luoyang Seed Museum, June 19, 2020. This museum, where seeds are the main items on display, is the largest of its kind in China. PHOTO BY CNS REPORTER HUANG ZHENGWEI 

II. We have consistently developed a deeper understanding of the patterns underlying our efforts to safeguard China's food security in the new era. 

The CPC Central Committee has always attached great importance to the issue of food security, formulating and adjusting related policies according to the circumstances of different historical periods. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee chaired by Xi Jinping has focused on planning for the future and balancing development and security imperatives, offering sound guidance and vigorous support for theoretical, institutional, and practical innovations related to food security. This has provided us with a deeper understanding of the patterns underlying our efforts to safeguard the nation's food security. 

The firm leadership of the CPC is the fundamental guarantee for keeping control over food security in the hands of the Chinese people. 

President Xi Jinping has said, "Food security is a fundamental part of national security," and "safeguarding our nation's food security is a perpetual challenge, and our efforts can never slacken in this regard." The CPC Central Committee and the State Council have worked constantly to refine systems, mechanisms, and policies for safeguarding food security, and included this among the six priority areas for efforts to maintain security (namely job security, basic living needs, operations of market entities, food and energy security, stable industrial and supply chains, and the smooth functioning of primary-level governments). It has been proven through practice that only by upholding and strengthening the CPC's overall leadership and fully leveraging the strengths of the Chinese socialist system can we maintain the initiative in safeguarding our food security and broaden the prospects of China's unique approach to food security. 

To continue comprehensive reform is the source of energy boosting our capacity to safeguard food security. 

Since 2012, reform in key fields related to food security has constantly driven deeper. Measures for separating ownership rights, contract rights, and usage rights of contracted farmland and keeping rural land contracting practices stable and unchanged on a longterm basis have been fully implemented, deeper progress has been made with environmentally-oriented reforms of the agricultural subsidy system, constant advances have been made with reforms of systems and mechanisms for managing the security of grain reserves, and systems for assessing implementation of the provincial governor responsibility system, management of central grain reserves, and execution of food policies under the authority of the central government have been established. As various reforms have driven deeper, the national framework of institutions for food security has become more robust, and China's system and capacity for governance in this domain have steadily modernized. It has been proven through practice that only by maintaining our pioneering spirit and tackling challenges head on can we ensure that reforms are effectively implemented and generate new momentum for safeguarding our nation's food security. 

Upholding a systematic perspective is an important part of implementing our food security strategy. 

Food security is an issue that relates to economic growth, social stability, and national security, and therefore it is crucial that we have an overall, systematic perspective on the status of our country and our food supply. With this in mind, we must strike the right balance in six different relationships. The first is the relationship between surplus and shortage. 

Having a shortage of grain is a problem since this will exert extensive pressure, but having a surplus is also a problem since this will put pressure on storage. The second is the relationship between quality and quantity. We must continue to give equal weight to quality and quantity, resolutely maintaining cropland area and yield while also increasing the supply of top quality grain. By improving quality, production, and prices, we can promote stable grain production, boost efficiency in the agricultural sector, and help farmers earn more income. The third is the relationship between production and distribution. We must coordinate every link in the chain including production, purchasing, storage, processing, and sales, keep up our focus on grain production, enhance storage and processing capacity, extend grain industry chains, and better leverage global effects. The fourth is the relationship between the present and the long term. While devoting effort to addressing present structural problems, we must also have an eye on the long term, shoring up weaknesses and reinforcing our foundations in order to maintain the gradual trend of improvement in food security. The fifth is the relationship between the domestic and international spheres. While remaining grounded in the domestic sphere and addressing the problem of feeding our people, we must also actively engage in international cooperation on food security and make effective use of international markets and resources. The sixth is the relationship between the government and the market. We must fully exert the decisive role of the market in allocating resources while also better exerting the role of the government, achieving integration between an efficient market and an effective government. It has been proven through practice that only by adopting a systematic and coordinated approach can we ensure that various measures work in harmony with each other on the level of policy direction and complement each other in terms of their actual effects, thereby boosting global effects for protecting our nation's food security. 

Innovation-driven development and high-quality development are absolutely essential for safeguarding food security. 

Innovation is the prime mover of development. In the process of protecting our food security, we must keep using innovation to stimulate vitality and cultivate drivers while also developing and applying new technologies in order to promote stable grain production and boost quality and efficiency. Helping new players grow and expand, we should implement the plan to foster family farms and launch the campaign to standardize and upgrade farmer cooperatives, support specialized commercial services in areas such as crop varieties, post-production, and storage and sales, and bring small-scale farmers along on the wave of modernization. We should actively explore new approaches, advance the quality grain project, and accelerate the high-quality development of grain industries so that they can play an important role in stabilizing grain production, consolidating and expanding upon the outcomes of the fight against poverty, and driving rural revitalization forward across the board. It has been proven through practice that only by accelerating the pace of innovation in terms of policy, technology, and business models and raising our overall productivity and competitiveness can we safeguard our nation's food security at a higher level. 

Our mission in the campaign to bolster food security is to take on heavy tasks for the benefit of the people. 

Satisfying the people's desire for a better life is the objective that we strive toward. In the realm of food, this effort takes the form of seeing that the people not only have enough food, but good food that is healthy and nutritious. In recent years, with a focus on benefitting farmers, we have rigorously implemented purchasing policies, improved post-production grain services, and developed mechanisms for aligning interests, using multiple channels to see that grain farmers fully reap the benefits of reform and development. Meanwhile, with a focus on benefitting consumers, we have improved the urban-rural distribution and supply network, promoted new forms and models of business, and stepped up oversight on grain quality in order to provide consumers with top-notch products and services. Finally, with a focus on guiding business operators, we have vigorously implemented reforms to streamline administration and delegate power, improve regulation, and upgrade services, made consistent efforts to improve the business environment, and encouraged enterprises to create new products, increase the quality of their products, and build their brands. It has been proven through practice that only by taking concrete steps to bolster food security, help farmers, and benefit the people can we ensure that various food security policies and measures truly benefit the people, earn their support, and stand up in practice. 

III. Food security efforts must never slacken. 

Food security remains one of the major challenges faced by humanity today, and the world faces serious difficulties in realizing the goal of "zero hunger" included in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The spread of Covid-19 around the world has brought significant uncertainty to food trade and cooperation, and put the stability of international supply chains and logistics at risk. Comprehensively assessing the domestic food security situation, there are currently four main areas in which risks and pressures are manifested, and therefore it is crucial that our food security efforts never slacken.

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A worker tests the temperature of grain at a centrally administered storage facility in Jingzhou, Hubei Province, August 18, 2020. The development of grain storage technology and the construction of smart storage facilities in recent years have enabled environmentally friendly management of grain reserves featuring low-temperature, low-oxygen, and low-energy storage, which has in turn helped cut down on spoilage, reduce energy consumption, and maintain freshness. PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY HUANG ZHIGANG 

First, food demand is growing while at the same time there are hard resource and environmental constraints. 

Although grain production has been abundant for several years running in the country, there remains a tight balance in food supply, and China could quite possibly remain in this state over the long term. As living standards have risen and the food consumption structure has been upgraded, the amount of grain used for livestock feed has kept growing at a relatively high rate. China has a large population but limited land and water resources, with cropland and fresh water per capita at only 40% and 25% of the global average, respectively. As new industrialization and urbanization have pushed deeper, cropland and water sources used in agriculture have come under pressure, posing a significant challenge to efforts to bolster our grain supply capacity. 

Second, issues related to imbalanced and inadequate development have impacted the food domain to different degrees. 

For example, China simultaneously faces temporary surpluses and shortages in different varieties of grain. Rice and wheat production is more than sufficient to meet demand, but there has been a definite shortfall in corn production and an even larger gap in soybean production. Meanwhile, grain production has become even more concentrated, with 13 provincial-level units that are primary producers contributing to 80% of national grain output. In recent years, the volume of grain shipped between provinces nationwide has remained over 200 billion kilograms, accounting for approximately a third of national grain output. Lastly, there is a lack of connection from upstream processing to the final sale of goods in certain areas, while logistical development is imbalanced between important hubs. Some localities have limited emergency food supply facilities, and therefore do not have the capacity to provide solid guarantees. 

Third, we still need to step up efforts to bring the initiative of both the farmers and local governments into play. 

While labor and land costs are increasing by relatively large margins, profits from growing grain are comparatively low, which makes farmers feel less enthusiastic about these crops. As the food security situation has improved, some localities have relaxed their focus on agriculture and grain, while certain primary grain producing areas have become insufficiently proactive about production. In the process of structural adjustment, certain localities have cut down on the amount of acreage planted with grain and switched to other crops out of a narrow-minded focus on profits. Though the amount of acreage nationwide planted with grain has remained stable overall for many years running, we must still ensure that red lines in this regard are strictly adhered to. 

Fourth, certain products are sourced from other countries at a relatively high rate, while others lack competitiveness in the market. 

In recent years, imported grain has accounted for only around 2% of the grain consumed in China. Imported soybeans, on the other hand, have accounted for a relatively large proportion of domestic consumption, and these have been sourced from a limited number of suppliers. If major fluctuations were to occur in international grain prices, these could spread into the domestic sphere via trade, finance, media, and other channels, affecting market expectations and downstream industries. The amount of cropland per household in China is limited, while the level of scale and organization in grain production is relatively low. Coordination between industrial and innovation chains is lacking, and we are in urgent need of more high-level research and development as well as more high-quality and specialized products and products involving deep processing. Our food enterprises have had a late start in going global, and therefore they need to boost their competitiveness and influence on the international market. 

IV. Resolutely following a uniquely Chinese approach to food security 

The ancient Chinese agronomist Jia Sixie wrote that the major grain crops are the sustenance of both the people and the nation. In a country like China with such a large population, safeguarding national food security is a long-term strategic task of extreme importance. 

We must uphold the food crop production strategy based on farmland management and the application of technology, and further reinforce the foundations of our food security. 

To keep food security in control of the Chinese people, it is crucial that we effectively address the two key issues of seeds and land. We must step up the protection and utilization of germplasm resources, develop seed banks, launch coordinated efforts to make major scientific breakthroughs on improved crop varieties, implement projects to upgrade the modern seed industry, and enhance our control over improved crop varieties. We must strictly adhere to the red lines for cultivated land and permanent basic cropland, remain committed to using good farmland for growing grain, curb the conversion of farmland for non-agricultural uses, and prevent farmers from transitioning away from planting grain. We must implement the policy of extending rural land contracts for another 30 years when the second round of contracts expire, make vigorous efforts to improve agricultural infrastructure, and launch projects for building high-standard farmland. We must work actively to establish a diversified setup of market entities, promoting cooperation between the production and sales sides of the grain industry and supporting the development of a wholesale market for processed grain and retail outlets while upholding the leading role of the national grain trading platform. By doing so, we will accelerate the development of a unified, open, competitive, and orderly modern grain market system. 

We must expand the quality grain project, and speed up high-quality development of the grain industry. 

We must continue to integrate agriculture with industry and link farm to food table, and move faster to develop a modern grain industry system. With a focus on functional zones for grain production and protected areas that produce important agricultural products, we should build a network of industries for national food security. We must amplify the effect of grain processing and conversion as a driver, foster a batch of model cities and counties, specialized industrial parks, and key industries, promote coordination between industrial chains, value chains, and supply chains, establish pacesetters in grain industry development, and achieve a positive cycle in which grain production, industry, and the economy are thriving. We must launch a new round of quality grain projects, and continue to carry out the China Good Grain and Oil campaign. By fostering leading industries and expanding the grain industry, we will help link efforts to consolidate and build upon the outcomes of the fight against poverty with the rural revitalization strategy. We must implement upgrades to make grain storage more environmentally friendly, to increase the variety, quality, and brand recognition of grain products, to enable the tracking of grain quality, to improve machinery and equipment used in grain production, to enhance emergency response capacity, and to encourage people to practice healthy consumption, save on food, and cut down on spoilage. At the same time, we must improve grain quality, production, purchasing, storage, processing, and sales, making the grain supply system more resilient and well matched with domestic demand. 

We must launch a grain saving campaign, cut down on spoilage, and promote healthy and nutritious products. 

We must step up full-chain control, push forward development of the post-production grain services system, and reduce spoilage as much as possible. We must bolster the development and application of new agricultural equipment, and raise the level of mechanization in agricultural work. We must move faster to renovate and upgrade storage facilities, vigorously promote the application of low temperature grain storage technology, and carry out projects helping farmers and citizens store their grain using science-based methods. We must provide guidance on processing grains like rice and wheat appropriately, pay attention to making full use of byproducts, and spur the development of a circular economy in the grain domain. We must incorporate education on food security into the national curriculum, hold events such as World Food Day and National Food Security Awareness Week, advocate modest and environmentally friendly lifestyles, and foster a new trend of valuing and saving food while practicing healthy consumption. 

We must improve efforts to support production, purchasing, storage, processing, and sales of grain in a coordinated manner, and achieve a better dynamic between grain supply and demand. 

We must rationally set the scale of reserves, improve the mix of varieties, and optimize the regional layout. Furthermore, we must fully exert the role of local grain reserves as first lines of defense while maximizing the stabilizing role of central reserves. We must also establish a system of non-government grain reserves that is coordinated and efficient and features complementary functions and clear rights and responsibilities. We must boost our capacity for regulating purchasing and storage by devoting earnest efforts to policy-based purchasing, pushing for the diversification of the entities and channels involved, promoting market-based purchasing of good grain at good prices, and preserving and mobilizing the enthusiasm of farmers with regard to growing grain. We must strengthen monitoring and early warming in the grain domain, step up precision regulation and management of expectations, and keep supplies and prices on the market stable. Finally, we must renovate, expand, and build new grain storage and distribution facilities with a focus on layout improvements, structural adjustment, and enhanced functionality. 

We must strengthen oversight and enforce accountability and food security governance. 

We must implement the system whereby Party and government departments share equal responsibilities, reinforce assessments through the system of provincial governors taking responsibility for food security, rigorously enforce political accountability in this regard, and see that Party committees and government agencies at all levels exhibit more purposeful thought and action when it comes to agriculture and food security. We must take solid steps to carry out assessments on the management of central grain reserves and the enforcement of food policies under the authority of the central government, and push enterprises contracted to provide storage to practice strict internal regulation. We must draft a law on ensuring food security, and take steps to publicize and implement the newly-revised Regulations on the Administration of Grain Circulation. We must bolster oversight and enforcement in the grain domain, and rigorously investigate related legal and regulatory violations. We must continue reform of systems and mechanisms for managing the security of grain reserves, take further steps to enforce accountability among entities and regulators, and resolutely manage and maintain our nation's food security. 


Zhang Wufeng is Commissioner of the National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration and Secretary of its CPC Leadership Group. He also sits on the CPC Leadership Group of the National Development and Reform Commission. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 8, 2021)