But China’s efforts to buy or lease agricultural land in developing nations show that building farms and ranches abroad won’t be enough. Ballooning populations in Asia, Africa and South America will add another 2 billion people within a generation and they too will need more food.That leaves China with a stark ultimatum: If it is to have enough affordable food for its population in the second half of this century, it will need to make sure the world grows food for 9 billion people.Its answer is technology.China’s agriculture industry, from the tiny rice plots tended by 70-year-old grandfathers to the giant companies that are beginning to challenge global players like Nestle SA and Danone SA, is undergoing a revolution that may be every bit as influential as the industrial transformation that rewrote global trade.The change started four decades ago when the country began to recast its systems of production and private enterprise. Those reforms precipitated an economic boom, driven by factories, investment and exports, but the changes down on the farm were just as dramatic.Land reforms lifted production of grains like rice and wheat, and millions joined a newly wealthy middle class that ate more vegetables and pork and wanted rare luxuries like beef and milk.When Du Chunmei was a little girl, pork was a precious gift only for the elders of her village in Sichuan during the Lunar New Year holiday. The family pig would be slaughtered, and relatives and neighbors would pack their house for a feast.“Meat used to be such a rarity,” said Du, now 47 and an employee of state oil company PetroChina Co. whose family celebrated the holiday this year at a restaurant. “Now it’s so common we try to cut back to stay healthy.”But the breakneck pace of the country’s development brought some nasty side effects. Tracts of prime land were swallowed by factories. Fields were polluted by waste, or by farmers soaking the soil in chemicals. The country became a byword for tainted food, from mercury-laced rice to melamine-infused milk powder.So how can China produce enough safe food for its growing population if they all start eating like Americans?The simple answer is it can’t.It takes about 1 acre (half a hectare) to feed the average U.S. consumer. China only has about 0.2 acres of arable land per citizen, including fields degraded by pollution.So China’s Communist government has increasingly shifted its focus to reforming agriculture, and its approach divides into four parts: market controls; improving farm efficiency; curbing land loss; and imports.In each case, technology is the key to balancing the food equation. The nation is spending billions on water systems, seeds, robots and data science to roll back some of the ravages of industry and develop sustainable, high-yield farms.It needs to succeed quickly, because China’s chief tool during the past decade for boosting domestic production is backfiring.China has a goal of being self-sufficient in staple foods like rice, corn and wheat. To ensure farmers grew those crops, it paid a minimum price for the grains and then stored the excess in government silos.Farmers responded, saturating their small plots with fertilizers and pesticides to reap bumper crops that filled government reserves to bursting....MUCH MORE
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
"Farming the World: China’s Epic Race to Avoid a Food Crisis"
From Bloomberg, May 22: