Thursday, April 13, 2017

Regional Delineations to Protect Chinese Crops

China's latest food security scheme is to designate 67 million hectares of cultivated land as "functional regions" devoted to 3 cereal grains and "protected regions" for 5 other key crops. These regions will be targeted for strict controls of land use, investments in infrastructure, subsidy programs, nurture of new types of farm operations, close monitoring by remote sensing, detailed mapping and databases.

The program was announced in an April 10, 2017 State Council document, "Guidance on Establishing Functional Regions for Grains and Protected Areas for Major Crops." According to the document, this regional delineation approach is part of President Xi Jinping's new concept and strategy for national governance. The document explained that areas best suited to each crop will be "scientifically delineated" to maintain "basic self-sufficiency" in cereal grains and maintain effective supply of other major crops.

The total area covered by these regions is planned for 1.04 billion mu (69.3 million hectares), which encompasses 51.2% of China's current cropland base, and 67% of "permanent farmland." Grain functional areas for rice, wheat, and corn are planned to cover 60 million hectares, and protected areas for soybeans, cotton, rapeseed, sugar, and natural rubber will cover 15.9 million hectares (note: the two types of areas sum to more than the total because some land will be included in more than one category). The targeted size of each crop's functional or protected area encompasses most of the area planted in each crop during 2016 (see table).

China's plans for functional and protected crop regions
Targeted region area
National area planted, 2016
Million hectares
Two regions combined
Grain functional regions
Major crop protected regions
--Natural Rubber

In a Q&A with journalists, Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu explained that this idea originated with Zhejiang Province which designated 8 million mu as a functional grain production area in 2010. Directives to establish national functional areas for grain and protected areas for other crops have been included in the State Council's "Central Document Number 1" each of the last three years, and the idea was included in the 13th five-year plan.

It will take 3 years to delineate the plots of land to be included in the functional and protected regions by giving instructions to provinces and to successively lower levels of government to choose suitable fields. The plan will take 5 years to get up and running. Relatively good, flat land will be chosen for the key regions, while land on steep slopes, wetlands, other land eligible for land retirement programs, and land with slope of 15 degrees or more will be excluded. In plains, contiguous fields of 500 mu (33 ha) will be chosen to facilitate mono-cropping, investment in irrigation networks, roads, mechanization and infrastructure. Smaller contiguous fields of 50 mu (3.3 ha) will be chosen in hilly regions.

Land use plans will be strictly enforced within the regions to ensure that a minimum production capacity is maintained. Investment in fixed assets will be focused on the regions, and reforms of agricultural lending and credit will also be targeted to these regions. Maps and complete records of each plot of land will be stored in a database, and management will be precise and automated. Fields will be monitored with remote sensing. Subsidies and transfer payments will be concentrated in the regions and the "precision" of subsidies will be increased to better motivate local officials and farmers. Pilot programs on price and income insurance will be explored in these regions and officials hope to achieve full agricultural insurance coverage.

While official propaganda describes this as a "new idea", agricultural officials have been issuing similar "advantaged regional layout plans" for specific commodities for decades. This time there will be more technology, more money, and strict enforcement of rules on land use.

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