Thursday, February 21, 2019

Siberia As Breadbasket For China

China has been eyeing their neighbor to the north based on some revanchist claims to the land for 160 years.
Here is part of the Chinese pitch from a few years ago as verbalized by the New York Times:
...The border, all 2,738 miles of it, is the legacy of the Convention of Peking of 1860 and other unequal pacts between a strong, expanding Russia and a weakened China after the Second Opium War. (Other European powers similarly encroached upon China, but from the south. Hence the former British foothold in Hong Kong, for example.)

The 1.35 billion Chinese people south of the border outnumber Russia’s 144 million almost 10 to 1. The discrepancy is even starker for Siberia on its own, home to barely 38 million people, and especially the border area, where only 6 million Russians face over 90 million Chinese. With intermarriage, trade and investment across that border, Siberians have realized that, for better or for worse, Beijing is a lot closer than Moscow....
—via "Why China will 'reclaim' Siberia", China Daily Mail,
The new map is envisioned to look something like this:
Expanded China-Siberia map showing possible claims China might make

In the meantime China is leasing. From the South China Morning Post, December 18. 2018:
Russia offers 2.5 million acres of land to Chinese farmers, but will it ease Beijing’s soybean shortage?
And although the SCMP's editorial stance usually seems to be pretty much independent of the official Beijing line, the fact the paper is owned by Alibaba means the potential for government pressure should always be factored into stories such as this from the July 20, 2018 edition:
Why forecasts of a Chinese takeover of the Russian Far East are just dramatic myth
With all that as prologue, here's the latest from The Diplomat:

The Dormant Breadbasket of the Asia-Pacific
The promise of Siberian agriculture could meet Asia’s growing food demand. 
By Maarten Elferink and Florian Schierhorn
Countries in the Asia-Pacific region are importing an increasing amount of grain and oilseed to match their growing domestic demand. East Asian countries imported 72.5 million tonnes of grain from around the world last season, an increase of 52 percent over the last 10 years. Japan and South Korea stand out in corn imports, respectively the second and third largest buyer worldwide, and China has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the largest buyer of barley. Southeast Asian grain imports, although a third smaller than the amount destined for East Asia, grew even faster, by 129 percent over the same period, and are forecast to maintain strong growth in the next years – especially as wheat consumption in Southeast Asia is far below the global per capita average of 78 kilograms per year, and even around three times lower than in China and India. Indonesia, for example, is already the second largest buyer of wheat in the world, but has an annual per capita consumption of only 29 kilograms.
Combined, the import volume of East Asia and Southeast Asia account for nearly one third of all grain in global markets last season. The growth in population coupled with rising incomes, spurring consumption of protein-rich diets (more meat and poultry) and a preference for wheat products such as bread or noodles (over traditional rice-based products), are boosting demand. In China, feed for the proliferating domestic pig and poultry sectors is the main driver of surging grain imports. China’s unparalleled demand becomes especially clear through another key feed ingredient – the oilseed soybean. Local buyers imported a staggering 94.1 million tonnes last season, equivalent to 61 percent of all soybeans exported. As recent as 1995 China was still self-sufficient in soybean production and, although domestic production has hardly changed in volume since then, it now fulfills only about 14 percent of demand. With domestic meat consumption expected to continue growing, so will Chinese imports of feed ingredients and soybean in particular.
Yet it is not just food demand in Asia that is growing at unprecedented rates; worldwide food demand is expected to increase anywhere between 59 percent and 98 percent by 2050. This will drastically transform agricultural markets. Across the globe, farmers need to grow more, by increasing their crop land or enhancing productivity on existing lands. Nonetheless, there are significant hurdles ahead in realizing this. Average global crop yields — the amount of crops harvested per unit of land cultivated — are increasing too slowly to meet the forecast demand, while urbanization and underinvestment in agriculture are exacerbating this situation. Another major obstacle is climate change, which already affects agriculture worldwide, as increasing water-scarcity, rising temperatures and extreme weather events have diminished harvests in numerous countries recently.
It is important to understand the systemic risk of these climate-related supply volatilities in major crop producing countries. China, for example, is by far the largest consumer of wheat in the world and only second to the United States in consumption of corn, yet it is almost self-sufficient in production of these crops. When domestic reserves dwindle due to possible climate-induced harvest failures in the near future, it could quickly force Chinese buyers to import substantially more grain to meet demand, taking a significant chunk out of global supplies – in turn negatively impacting prices and food security worldwide. These effects will be compounded when major grain exporting countries are facing disappointing harvests simultaneously, as evidenced by the global food crises of 2008 and 2011. Still, some colder regions in the northern latitudes are expected to (initially) benefit from climate change. Countries such as Canada and Russia, where longer and warmer growing seasons are already bolstering crop production. One of the most promising regions is the vast Asian part of Russia, named Siberia.
With 13.1 million square kilometers, Siberia is larger than Brazil and the European Union combined. From the Urals to the Pacific Ocean, Siberia stretches across 6,000 kilometers and contains 28 percent of the land currently cultivated in Russia. Nevertheless, it is one of the least populated regions on earth with less than 3 people per square kilometer and a great share of the crops harvested there are ultimately destined for consumers in other regions. Siberia’s agriculture is today mainly confined to two areas. One is in the Russian Far East, where the warm and moist summers support Russia’s largest soybean growing area, which has profited substantially from the boom in Chinese soybean demand across the Amur river. Another and agriculturally much more important region is the Western Siberian grain belt. Fertile Chernozem soils, as found in Ukraine and the south of Russia, and seemingly endless crop fields  characterize this region. Last season 22 million tonnes of grain were harvested here, as well as nearly a third of all Russian rapeseed. The area is dominated by large-scale agriculture with corporate farms typically managing between 3,000 to 10,000 hectares of farmland.
Agriculture has been practiced in Siberia by indigenous tribes for millennia on subsistence level, but it was only when Russian settlers arrived in the 16th century that larger areas became cultivated, encouraged by tax breaks and free land allocation. By the late 19th century these settlers created one of the most productive farming regions in the Russian Empire. Inextricably linked to the development of the rail network that connected Siberia to the industrial heartlands of European Russia and its sea ports, grain harvests went from 1.4 million tonnes in the mid-19th century to over 7 million tonnes at the beginning of the 20th century.
As Russian grain exports in that epoch reached far and wide, many became familiar with the exceptional quality of Siberian grain. Between 1898 and 1900 the U.S. Department of Agriculture even sent a botanist, Mark A. Carleton, on several expeditions to the region to find suitable wheat cultivars for the Great Plains of the United States. With the various new wheat variants he introduced from Siberia and neighboring regions, Carleton transformed American farming. Unsurprisingly, Siberian hard red and durum wheat, like its offspring grown by American and Canadian farmers today, was already famous for its milling quality back then and a great share of it was exported to Europe.
By 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, Siberian grain harvest amounted to 18 million tonnes, or 17 percent of the Russian total. The rise of the Soviet Union put an end to the lucrative Siberian export, as production was directed to satisfy domestic demand. Regional crop farming continued to grow though and the so-called “virgin land campaign” in the 1950s and early 1960s greatly expanded the agricultural land base. As low and volatile yields in European Russia increasingly threatened domestic food security, Nikita Khrushchev ordered a vast cropland expansion in the natural steppes of Siberia and northern Kazakhstan. During the campaign, which lasted nine years, 45 million hectares were newly plowed here – an unparalleled cropland expansion endeavor worldwide....MUCH MORE