The School of Economics and Management, Tongji University August 20
“Food security is the material foundation for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.” Achieving food self-sufficiency has been a Chinese dream for thousands of years. The Communist Party of China (CPC) has led an unremitting campaign of hard work since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, especially since the reform and opening up. This has enabled China to achieve the historic change from “being underfed” to “being well-fed” and even to” having a greater range of choices”. Ensuring food security and achieving food self-sufficiency is a fundamental requirement for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. It is also an important strategy for ensuring China’s long-term peace and stability. Only by fundamentally addressing this most basic livelihood issue – food security – and remaining firm in our commitment to pursuing food security, can we strengthen our people’s sense of fulfillment, happiness, and security.
Recently, Cheng Guoqiang, a professor at the Department of Economics and Finance of our school, had an interview with a reporter from The Economic Daily and made relevant comments on the material foundation for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. The following is the published interview report.
1. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, especially over the past 40 years of reform and opening up, China has successfully resolved the food security issue that had troubled Chinese people for thousands of years. This has laid a solid material foundation for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. How did China achieve this?
Cheng Guoqiang Achieving food self-sufficiency has been an issue in China for thousands of years. Despite a weak agricultural foundation and severely limited resources, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has led an unremitting campaign of hard work since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (especially since the reform and opening up) that has changed China from a state of “being underfed” to “being well-fed” and even ” having a greater range of choices”. This is not only a great achievement in world food security but also a miracle for global agriculture.
According to statistics, in 1949, China only had about 113.18 million tons of grain output and 209 kilograms of grain per capita. By 2019, China had consistently exceeded 650 million tons of annual grain output with the per capita share of grain increasing to 470 kilograms. This represents an increase of 126% from the 209 kilograms produced at the founding of the People’s Republic of China and is higher than the global average production. China’s self-sufficiency in supplying grain currently exceeds 95%. When it comes to rice and wheat, it exceeds 100%. China is fully self-sufficient in its supply of food.
2. Throughout the grain production history of the People’s Republic of China, the rural household responsibility system was an important reform. What was the significance of this reform to the rapid development of grain production?
Cheng Guoqiang Since the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CPC, China has comprehensively promoted rural reforms based on the rural Household Responsibility System. This has greatly emancipated the productive forces in the rural areas and has mobilized farmers’ enthusiasm for producing. This was a key reason why China had a substantial increase in grain production capacity since the reform and opening up. It helped end the food shortage that had plagued the country for a long period of time and enabled it to have enough supply to meet the country’s demand.
Since the CPC’s 18th National Congress, the CPC Central Committee, with Xi Jinping as its core, has treated food security as a top priority. The Chinese government has established a national strategy for food security featuring self-sufficiency based on domestic grain production, guaranteed food production capacity, moderate imports, and technological support. The central leadership has introduced a food security policy that wishes to “ensure basic grain self-sufficiency and absolute staple food security” to help China always be fully self-sufficient in its supply of food. For this, China has advanced with the times and promoted supply-side structural reform in its agriculture sector. China has tried its best to improve the quality of agricultural supply and further deepened its rural land policy reform. China has practiced the strictest farmland protection measures and further strengthened the construction of agricultural infrastructure such as irrigation facilities. China has also strengthened the innovation and promotion of agricultural science and technology and improved its support and protection policies for agriculture. These actions have raised China’s grain production capacity to a new and stable level. China’s annual grain production has exceeded 650 million tons since 2015. On the whole, China is enjoying stable grain production, abundant stocks, a sufficient supply, and a stable market. It has entered a period of strong food security and has substantial food security capabilities.
General Secretary Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized that the requirement to feed more than a billion people is China’s most prominent national objective. Food security is an eternal task. China must not slacken in its efforts to ensure food security. The current promotion of China’s supply-side structural reform in agriculture does not mean that the country should slacken in its efforts for food production. Instead, China should comprehensively promote high-quality agricultural development to protect and improve its integrated grain production capacity. This will fundamentally ensure that China can maintain its “rice bowl” with a focus mainly on Chinese foodstuffs.
3. China has a large population and relatively little (arable) land and its grain production and demand will remain closely aligned for a long time. So what are the characteristics of food security in China?
Cheng Guoqiang China should always have control over its own food supply and should always produce Chinese foodstuffs. This is China’s basic food security policy. It is also a fundamental requirement for China to determine its food security measures. Based on its own national conditions and food availability, China has embarked on the road to establishing food security in its own way by implementing the concepts of innovative, coordinated, green, open and inclusive development. It has also set itself down the path of high-quality development and created a strategy for national food security that will take it to a new era. In addition, China has established its “three-in-one” food security methodology to match its national conditions and food availability. China’s domestic food production system focuses on ensuring the absolute security of its staple grains. A grain reserve system has also been created to facilitate a steady market and sound emergency response. Moreover, China has a global agricultural product supply chain that aims to coordinate and utilize the international food market and its resources. These three support each other and work together to form China’s food security methodology.
4. Grain reserves are crucial to ensuring China’s food security. What is unique about China’s grain reserve system?
Cheng Guoqiang As food and agriculture have always been top priorities for China’s economic and social development, China has been continuing to innovate its agricultural management system. It endeavors to foster new types of agricultural business entities to facilitate an organic relationship between small farmers and modern agricultural development. China has established and continuously improved agricultural support policies in line with its development stage to protect and mobilize farmers’ enthusiasm for production. Adhering to sustainable farmland use and agricultural technology innovation, China has accelerated the construction of agricultural infrastructure and improved agricultural production conditions. China has also continuously promoted research, development and innovation in agricultural science and technology to facilitate the development of green agriculture and enhance agricultural sustainability.
Since the reform and opening up, China has explored and established a central and local grain reserve system. Central grain reserves are mainly used to provide strategic support for major emergencies and to deal with obvious food supply shortages or abnormal national or regional market price fluctuations. Local grain reserves are mainly used to address regional supply and demand imbalances, respond to local emergencies, and meet any urgent needs that people may face in regards to staple grains. In addition, China has prepared 10-15 days of emergency processed grain reserves in large and medium-sized cities and areas where prices are volatile. China has also formed an emergency reserve, processing, and distribution system. Emergency supply outlets are located in streets and communities in urban and rural areas and play an important role in responding to major natural disasters and public emergencies.
5. China’s new national food security strategy aims to ensure basic grain self-sufficiency and absolute security of staple food. So, why does China still need to import grain?
Cheng Guoqaing Ensuring basic grain self-sufficiency does not mean that China can achieve self-sufficiency in all grain varieties. Moderate grain imports are an important tool that China can use to manage surpluses and shortages.
Coordinating and leveraging international and domestic markets and resources are the basic requirements for China’s new food security strategy. On the premise of ensuring basic grain self-sufficiency and absolute security of staple food, China can appropriately increase the import of non-staple grains to alleviate the pressure on its agricultural resources and environment and fill the gap between the supply and demand of some domestic agricultural products. In addition, China should further diversify the import sources, channels and structure of agricultural products and establish a global supply chain of agricultural products to improve its all-round food security capabilities.
6. To ensure its food security, China needs to ensure it has a sufficient supply of food and stable food prices. What requirements does this impose on China’s food security governance and capabilities to macro-regulate food?
Cheng Guoqiang With a secure food supply, people will feel safe. China has enjoyed a run of good harvests for 16 consecutive years. There are adequate grain supplies and a stable grain market, which are indicators of increasing food security. However, challenges and pressures that restrict China’s food security always exist. To fully control its own food supply, China needs to further improve its food security governance and macro-regulation capabilities and efficiently promote the construction of food security mechanisms. China should further strengthen its food security capabilities, steadily promote grain production, and enhance supply-side structural reform in its agriculture industry. China should also focus on its agricultural transformation and upgrade, and prompting the high-quality development of its grain industry. In addition, it should improve grain quality to better meet the needs of consumption upgrading.
7. To ensure food security, how can we mobilize local governments to ensure good grain production and farmers to grow crops? How can we improve our food governance and food macro-regulation capabilities to ensure food security?
Cheng Guoqiang To steadily promote grain production, we must pay more attention to mobilizing our main production areas to achieve good grain production and ensure that grain farmers are profitable. In past years, the more grain produced in the main production areas, the poorer these areas became. This greatly discouraged local governments from improving grain production. To ensure national food security, the central government should take overall responsibility while working with the provincial governments who bear primary responsibility. Governments at all levels should fully implement the responsibility system of provincial governors for food security and should also assume responsibility themselves for safeguarding national food security. In addition, the central government should further strengthen the financial rewards and subsidies for the granary provinces and counties to ensure that agriculture-focused granary provinces and counties gain benefits and continue to develop in line with the rest of the country. The key to maintaining stable grain production is to protect and improve the enthusiasm farmers have for growing grain. The central government should further innovate its mechanisms for subsidizing and supporting grain production, increase policy support to strengthen agriculture, help to benefit farmers, raise living standards in rural areas, and establish a long-term mechanism for keeping farmers enthusiastic about grain production.
China should maintain a sound grain market and circulation through reform and upholding the rule of law. Good laws are made to ensure good governance. To improve the national legal system, China should pay more attention to promoting food security legislation to form a sound legal system as soon as possible and realize the law-based governance in relation to its national food security. China should improve its food reserve security management system and mechanisms to ensure a real number of high-quality national grain reserves can be quickly deployed and well used. China should innovate and improve its food security system to combine production, purchasing, storage, processing and sales. By doing so, national food security can be guaranteed from end to end. China should also greatly improve the modernization of its grain circulation, innovate and improve cooperation in grain production and sales, and focus on regional and seasonal balances between food supply and demand.
Ensuring China’s food security is a central pillar for meeting major challenges at home and abroad and resisting serious global risks. It is also a “ballast stone” for economic, social and overall stability. Only when China always has control over its own food supply (mainly Chinese foods) can it control its overall economic and social development. Food security is the foundation of national security. Only by ensuring strong food security can China fully respond to the risks and challenges brought about by significant world changes and gain a strategic position.