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Keep Food Security in Our Own Hands

Source: Xi Jinping The Governance of China IV Updated: 2023-09-27

Keep Food Security in Our Own Hands*

December 28, 2020

“Grain sustains life and is vital to the nation.” I have often said that adjusting the food supply is a tactical move, while ensuring food security is of strategic importance – a point amply illustrated by the huge role that the abundant supply of food and key agro-products played in the response to Covid-19 epidemic this year.

The tight balance between grain supply and demand in our country has not changed, and as we are setting out to address structural problems, the problem of insufficient grain supply has become prominent again. As the demand for food will continue to increase in the years to come, the pressure on food supply will grow accordingly. At the same time, in view of the complex and disturbing international situation, we cannot relax for a moment in ensuring food security. We would rather produce and store more food, as the pressure of having too much food is entirely different from that of not having enough. We should never relax our efforts in grain production, and we should make sure that grain acreage and output do not decrease and that supply and market problems do not occur.

As an ancient statesman said, “Without farming, no food can be produced. And without arable land, no crops can grow.” Arable land is the lifeblood of food production. As early as 2013, I said that arable land must be protected in the same way as giant pandas, and that the total area of China’s farmland must stay above the red line of 120 million hectares. Over the years, I have given instructions to remove residences and non-agricultural commercial facilities illegally built on cultivated land, and curb the use of cultivated land for purposes other than farming and for non-grain production. Relevant departments have introduced a set of targeted and coordinated policies and measures. However, arable land abuses have persisted.

For example, basic cropland in some places has been used for afforestation or ornamental lakes, and green belts dozens or even hundreds of meters wide have been created on fertile land along roads, railways and canals in some other places. We do have a lot of land, but it is a scarce resource compared with the needs of 1.4 billion people. Land is needed for building cities, developing industries, and introducing eco-environmental projects, and this requires careful planning and use of land against properly defined criteria. We must not engage in afforestation of cultivated land or go against the laws of nature. All provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities must maintain their existing farmland for food production and cannot reduce it any further.

In addition to ensuring the quantity of arable land, we also need to improve its quality. The cultivation of high-standard farmland is an important measure that should be taken consistently, in order to improve farmland standard and quality and achieve high and stable yields even in times of drought or flood. We must have the determination to do so and should not cut corners on the budget required. We should attach great importance to the conservation of chernozem soil, maintain it, and make good use of it. We must apply the strictest and most effective system to protect cultivated land, for which we must adopt compulsory measures with real teeth. Those who fail to carry out orders, who engage in or continue with expressly prohibited acts, or who fail in their duties, must be investigated and held accountable.

The amount of cultivated land is limited, so the fundamental route to stabilizing and increasing production lies in science and technology. A new round of scientific and technological revolution in agriculture characterized by biotechnology and information technology is generating major breakthroughs, and all countries are trying to gain an edge in this revolution. As a large agricultural country, we must not lag behind. Instead, we should be more self-reliant in agricultural science and technology, and master core technologies as soon as possible.

After much reflection, I think one point must be made clear – seeds are the foundation of modern agriculture. I highlighted this point at the recent Central Conference on Economic Work. Even if we have all kinds of sophisticated equipment and favorable conditions, it is still difficult to achieve agricultural modernization without good seeds. The question of quality seeds for crops like soybeans has been a problem for years, and progress has not been satisfactory. We need to have the drive to break technological bottlenecks, know the direction and goals full well, speed up the implementation of major biological breeding projects, and bring seed resources for major agro-products under our own control as early as possible. Relevant departments should accelerate the R&D and application of biological breeding, conditional on strict supervision and risk control.

We need to bring science and technology faster to villages and households, making full use of both public services from the government and market services. We will use modern information technologies such as the internet of things and big data to develop smart agriculture. At the same time, we will speed up efforts to remedy our weak links in modern agricultural equipment such as drying and storage equipment, cold-chain preservation facilities, and agricultural machinery. In particular, we will increase our independent R&D capacity for important agricultural equipment, and improve the animal and plant quarantine system as well as the disaster prevention and mitigation system.

The key to incentivizing farmers to grow grain is to make sure they get a return from their effort. In recent years, the cost of growing grain has increased, while the cost effectiveness has been low, and farmers in many places have even suffered losses. In this context, we should stabilize and increase subsidies for grain producers, increase our capacity for adjusting grain purchase and storage, improve the minimum purchase price policy, and expand the scope of insurance programs covering total production costs and incomes. One of the weak points in grain production is high costs. The solution is to develop new operating models for agriculture – fostering family farms and farmers’ cooperatives, developing agricultural operations on an appropriate scale, and improving specialized and commercial services to handle tasks that are not cost-effective or feasible for a single household. Training farmers in production skills and management should also be strengthened to modernize management.

Party committees and governments at all levels should assume political responsibility for food security. In recent years, China’s grain production has been significantly concentrated in major producing areas, which makes sense, but excessive concentration also brings risks. If everyone everywhere only wants to eat grain and meat, and does not want to grow grain or raise hogs, then who will guarantee the supply? Food should not be treated only as a commodity – it is wrong to focus only on immediate economic gains or losses and ignore the political and long-term interests of the country as a whole.

All areas, whether major producers, major markets, or regions with balanced production and consumption, must ensure adequate acreage and output for food production, and they should jointly shoulder the responsibility for food security, as it is a major issue concerning fundamental national interests.

Party and government officials should both be accountable for food security – for instance, the governor and the Party secretary of a province are jointly responsible for the “rice bag” of their province.

Over the years, major grain-producing provinces, cities and counties have made an important contribution to our food security, which should be commended. For this reason, we will improve the mechanism for compensating major grain-producing areas, increase rewards and subsidies, and ensure that those who value agriculture and grain production do not suffer economic losses.

The food consumption patterns of urban and rural residents are constantly moving up market. In the future, the supply of agro-products should be guaranteed not only in quantity, but also in variety and quality. Supply-side structural reform in agriculture should aim to foster superior varieties, improve quality, build brands, and standardize production. We should continue to support the recovery and the steady development of hog production. We should make well-thought-out plans for the production of bulk agro-products, such as soybeans, cotton, corn and wheat, as soon as possible, and expand the output where necessary. This is a matter of national security, and we must not let others hold us in check.

We should make the best use of agricultural trade, but the key is to control risks, have alternative products and solutions, and prepare contingency plans. We should implement the strategy of diversifying agricultural imports, support enterprises in going global, improve their control over key logistics nodes, and make supply chains more resilient to risk. To ensure food security, we must conduct in-depth research into farm produce item by item, formulate plans, and implement them for each and every product. There has been good progress recently in the fight against food waste. We must continue this battle for a long time to come, and encourage the whole of society to practice frugality.

* Part of the speech at the Central Conference on Rural Work.

(Not to be republished for any commercial or other purposes.)