|Get a grip on food security. Don't let anyone grab it!|
A cloud of pessimism hung over the annual "economic work meeting" of China's top officials held December 8-10. Speakers moaned about the pandemic of the century, changes at a pace not seen in 100 years, weak demand, supply pressure and changing expectations. Officials were exhorted to "face up to the difficulties" and "restore confidence."
An official media account declared this the most pessimistic economic work meeting in the last three years. The article remarked that the meeting's orders to maintain "stability," and protect supplies in the face of a complex external environment full of uncertainties was pretty much the same as the last two years. Leaders are expected to resort to fiscal stimulus next year to pull the economy out of its doldrums.
Xi Jinping recited his well-worn trope of "keeping Chinese peoples' food bowls firmly in their own hands at all times", a catch phrase that first appeared 8 years ago when Xi ascended to power. Since then it has been the main statement of China's national food security policy.
A Peoples Daily feature on Xi's food security remarks contains mostly incomprehensible aphorisms like, "Passing through dangerous beaches and rushing through difficulties, the grass shakes the leaves to know the deer."
Another Xi utterance is slightly less inscrutable: "We must not let others become a choke point for the basic national survival issue of eating." This appears to be a worry that the United States will try to bring China to its knees through a food embargo.
Xi's concerns about food security are also nearer to home. The article cited the latest national land survey results showing that cultivated land is still shrinking.
Xi commented (sounding a lot like Mao) that farmers "...in a few localities don't want to plant grain in their fields; instead they want to build livestock farms or plant flowers and fruit trees...what about grain?" Chairman Xi moaned.
In another State media commentary on the food security discussion at the meeting, State Council think tank researcher Ye Xingqing also recited the "food bowl" slogan and recited two more slogans chanted over the past 8 years about "storing food in the ground" and "storing food in technology."
Ye cited initiatives to boost grain production in order to keep up with steadily rising demand: improving the overall production capacity in agriculture, building "high-standard fields," jump-starting the seed industry (a featured theme at last year's meeting), raise the level of agricultural machinery and equipment, and maintain reasonable net returns for farmers. None of these are new.
Ye warned that China is undergoing changes not seen in a century and must remain alert to volatility in global supply chains and diversify its sources of agricultural imports. Ye has written about this many times over the years. In a later post we will discuss China's progress in nurturing new soybean suppliers like Ethiopia (civil war) and Tanzania (covid-denying president died of covid).