Sunday, May 1, 2022

Shanghai Food Reserves Missing in Action

In widely circulated videos choruses of hungry and frustrated Shanghai residents shouted from windows their requests to "give us food" and banged pots in unison after 5 weeks of virus-prevention lockdowns and food shortages. Beijing citizens have already cleaned out supermarkets in anticipation of their own lockdown. Meanwhile, China's food reserve seems to be missing in action and its leaders are preparing for an apparently even more serious imminent and unnamed disaster.

Chinese authorities have assured us that regulations require Chinese cities to maintain a 6-month supply of food reserves. Propaganda circulated in 2020 recited the 6-month requirement for food-deficit regions and 3-month requirement for grain-surplus regions to head off food hoarding during the first round of covid lockdowns two years ago. Another 2020 article claimed to refute "rumors" about insufficient food reserves by citing a 910-million-ton reserve storage capacity and annual grain production of 650 million tons while acknowledging that there is no public information on how much is actually held in food reserves because they are a state secret. Two years ago this second article bragged that "we have no worries [about food], but other countries do" because of the country's big grain reserves.

Shanghai food reserves, circulated by The Paper in 2020.

Interestingly, there have been no reports about official food reserves during the April 2022 lockdown. There are scattered reports of government food distribution in Shanghai, but no citywide plan and no mention of Shanghai's food reserves. It seems like this would be the time for the Shanghai grain and food reserve bureau and the city's branch of Sinograin--the national food reserve management company--to trumpet their important role during an emergency. But neither organization's web site has any news about feeding Shanghai. I could not even access the Shanghai bureau's web site. Sinograin said last month it had stepped up its efforts to test imported grain and logistics workers for covid virus, a measure that would have constricted the food supply. 

Meanwhile, Heilongjiang Province is sending 3,000 metric tons of rice to feed Shanghai and Jilin Province pledged to send 1,000 metric tons of rice. If Shanghai is required to have a 6-month supply of food reserves, why are relatively poor provinces in the northeast region of the country sending food aid to one of China's richest cities? 

China's National Grain and Commodity Reserves Administration held an alarming disaster preparation videoconference on April 27 where authorities announced that the country faces a grim and serious natural disaster situation. Workers were told that they have a big responsibility to ensure provisions in case of disaster to "welcome the victory of the communist party's 20th national congress." There was no indication of what prospective disaster may be more serious than Shanghai's 5-week lockdown.

Maybe there's no talk about food reserves because last year's crackdown on food reserve corruption uncovered fraudulent reporting, old, stale grain held in reserves, and unsafe storage that led to insect infestation and explosions. In March, the Grain and Commodity Reserves Administration held a training meeting for a nationwide inspection of food reserves. Sichuan Province's inspection will check up on the "truthfulness of reserve quantities," the quality of the reserves, and the safety of the storage facilities.  

The Heilongjiang rice donation is being supplied by 3 companies--half of the donated rice will come from Singapore-based Yihai Kerry--with no mention of the government's commodity reserve bureau or its grain reserve management company. 

The latest propaganda trope in today's state media is that supply of daily necessities and virus prevention must be coordinated, and distribution over the "last 100 meters" must be tackled. The city of Beijing is said to have prepared less than a month's reserve of rice, flour, oils and vegetables for a possible lockdown--that's a lot less than the 6-month requirement. The "reserves" are held in specialized warehouses, wholesale markets and supermarkets. On April 22, Shanghai's city government issued a notice calling on food business operators to step up their procurement of food and other necessities. The commerce ministry is featured in this article and there is no mention of the food reserve administration or the grain reserve company. 

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