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Expert warns on China's future food supply

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Beijing (UPI) Dec 27, 2010
Land degradation in China poses a challenge to the country's future food supply, a U.N. envoy said.

China has lost 20.2 million acres of arable land because of urbanization or industrialization, forest replanting programs and damage caused by natural disasters, said Olivier De Schutter an independent U.N. human rights expert. Currently, 37 percent of China's territory suffers from land degradation and its per capita available land is 40 percent of the world average.

"This shrinking of arable land represents a major threat to the ability of China to maintain its current self-sufficiency in grain and it fuels competition over land and land evictions," De Schutter stated in a news release after completing a trip to China last week.

Although China has 21 percent of the world's population, it has only 8.5 percent of the world's total arable land and 6.5 percent of the world's water reserves.

Earlier this month China announced that its consumer price index rose 5.1 percent on an annual basis in November, with food prices climbing 11.7 percent.

An increasingly carnivorous diet among the Chinese also means more grain is needed to feed livestock. In the past year, rice costs have gone up 13 percent, wheat 9 percent, chicken 17 percent, pork 13 percent and eggs 30 percent.

De Schutter warned that the food price hikes were a "harbinger of what may be lying ahead" for China, which represents one-fifth of the world's total population.

De Schutter told Britain's The Guardian newspaper that climate change is expected to increase China's price volatility and reduce agricultural productivity by 5 percent to 10 percent by 2030. Therefore, he said, it is necessary for China to wean itself off fossil-fuel intensive farming and to adopt more sustainable agricultural methods, including organic production.

China should also rely more on two of its great strengths: a large rural population and a vast strategic grain reserve, which accounts for 40 percent of the country's 550 million ton grain supply, De Schutter said, The Guardian reports.

Yet De Schutter warned against a trend toward industrial-scale farming that sacrifices natural productivity for the sake of increasing economic competitiveness.

"I believe China can show that it is successful in feeding a very large population," he said, acknowledging that this would pose a challenge for the future as more of China's 200 million farmers migrate to cities.

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