08/17/2020, 13.42
CHINA
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Drought, floods and Covid-19: Chinese agricultural production and food security at risk

Government plans for food self-sufficiency threatened. Echoes of Mao Zedong: Xi Jinping launches campaign against food waste. Producers: The authorities falsify the data to reassure the population. With rising prices and the loss of purchasing power, the outlook for households remains uncertain.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Chinese farmers have lost up to half of their grain harvest due to the combined effect of droughts, floods and Covid-19, according to an investigation by the South China Morning Post, published today.

The drop in cereal production risks upsetting the food supply chain: rice, wheat and corn are essential components in the national diet. The losses also endanger government plans to achieve self-sufficiency in food production, which they have pursued in the face of the trade war with the United States and the obstacles to international trade caused by the coronavirus.

The issue of food security has prompted President Xi Jinping to order the population not to waste food. His message, launched last week, is part of a national campaign. For their part restaurants are serving smaller portions to customers while catering and food delivery companies propose programs to change Chinese eating habits.

In the interim, the leadership is considering measures to punish food waste. For many observers, Xi's instruction is reminiscent of that issued by Mao Zedong in 1959, at the beginning of the "Great Famine", when the Communist leader asked people to "eat less in their leisure time".

Drought in May and early June, and heavy rains in July and August, damaged grain production. At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic has created problems in food supply in several areas of the country. To aggravate the situation, farmers are stockpiling the harvest because they expect a further hike in prices.

Official data are contradictory. The authorities speak of an increase in agricultural production of 0.9% compared to the same period last year (of 0.6% that of grains). The growers claim that public officials falsify the data to reassure the population. In confirmation of their objections, the government has so far purchased 42.9 million tons of wheat for strategic reserves from domestic producers: last year, at this time, it had bought 9.4 million more.

Figures on imports also belie the official line. Between January and July, the country imported 74.5 million tons of grains, an increase of nearly 23% on an annual basis. The increase is due to government efforts to comply with the trade pre-agreement with the US, but also to compensate for the fall in domestic supply and the related increase in prices.

The weather emergency threatens to slow the post-pandemic economic recovery. Although official statistics indicate GDP growth of 3.2% in the second quarter of the year, after the fall of 6.8% recorded between January and March, unemployment in the country remains high (5.7%).

The loss of households' purchasing power, however, is far more serious. In the first six months of 2020, the per capita income of the Chinese fell by 1.3%, and per capita expenditure by 9.3%. With food prices on the rise, including those for pork, the outlook for much of the population remains bleak.

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