Thursday, December 23, 2010

China's ability to feed its people questioned by UN expert

Jonathan Watts in the Guardian (UK): China's ability to feed a fifth of the world's population will become tougher because of land degradation, urbanisation and over-reliance on fossil-fuels and fertiliser, a United Nations envoy warned today as grain and meat prices surged on global markets.

With memories still fresh of the famines that killed tens of millions of people in the early 1960s, the Chinese government has gone to great lengths to ensure the world's biggest population has enough to eat, but its long-term self-sufficiency was questioned by UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter.

"The shrinking of arable land and the massive land degradation threatens the ability of the country to maintain current levels of agricultural production, while the widening gap between rural and urban is an important challenge to the right to food of the Chinese population," said De Schutter at the end of a trip to China.

He told the Guardian his main concern was the decline of soil quality in China because of excessive use of fertilisers, pollution and drought. He noted that 37% of the nation's territory was degraded and 8.2m hectares (20.7m acres) of arable land has been lost since 1997 to cities, industrial parks, natural disasters and forestry programmes. Further pressure has come from an increasingly carnivorous diet, which has meant more grain is needed to feed livestock. The combination of these factors is driving up food inflation. In the past year, rice has gone up by 13%, wheat by 9%, chicken by 17%, pork by 13% and eggs by 30%.

"This is not a one-off event. The causes are structural," said the envoy. "The recent food price hikes in the country are a harbinger of what may be lying ahead."…

Yuanyang rice terraces, shot by prat, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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