Historic heatwaves this summer abruptly followed by the recent torrential rains have played havoc on China’s agriculture sector, thus aggravating country’s long-standing food dilemma. As the effects of climate change leading to erratic weather patterns and affecting farm productivity, Chinese are going to face challenges of feeding its enormous population against the limited resources.
All previous records of highest temperature were broken after temperature touched 52.2 degrees Celsius this summer. Chinese government had to issue heatstroke alerts after hundreds of weather stations recorded historic heatwaves. Soon, major parts of China were battered by the devastating rains, killing hundreds and displacing thousands. These were the heaviest rains China witnessed in 140 years.
Agriculture in China has been the biggest victim of erratic and extreme weather patterns this year. Farmlands in the major farm-producer states of Heibei, Henan, Shandong were submerged causing huge losses to farmers. Millions of wheat harvest went to waste. Henan alone is responsible for one-fourth of China’s wheat output.
China is the largest consumer and producer of wheat. However, wheat production in China is at an “unprecedented risk”. Huo Xuexi, a professor of agricultural economics at Northwest A&F University in Shaanxi province, said “I’m afraid that maintaining grain production this year at last year’s level would be difficult, given the risks of climatic damage projected by domestic and international meteorologists.”
As rivers in China overflowed, rice fields submerged, and vegetable farms were damaged. “The flood has completely inundated rice crops for two days already and has caused total crop failure,” said an official from Jilin. The extreme weather events have posed serious threats to China’s agricultural output and supplies, thus aggravating the food security concerns.
What has happened in China is unprecedented. “I’ve worked as a farmer all my life, and this is not the first time I’ve had damage from floods,” he said. “But the damage this year is the worst,” said Ran Chaoyin, a farmer from Chongqing. China’s agriculture ministry has allocated RMB 432 million to provide relief to farmers who faced losses due to climate woes. Notably, the occurrence of crop pests and diseases has increased by 400 percent in China since the 1970s, revealed Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
The extreme weather patterns have started fuelling food security concerns in China as the country has been dependent on imports to meet its domestic consumption. Sheng Xia, chief agricultural analyst for Shenzhen-based Citic Securities, said “Extreme weather such as drought and floods may disrupt the food production order and bring more uncertainties to the supply of food and oil.”
The Council on Strategic Risks highlighted the unsustainable groundwater extraction to maximise food production, which appeared to be the major reason for the threats to both food and water security. “This makes sufficient agricultural production impossible and ultimately creates more food insecurity for communities that increasingly rely on domestic food production,” reads the council’s report titled ‘China’s Climate Security Vulnerability’.
In order to feed one-fifth of the global population, China has been increasingly relying on imported food. China has been a net importer of agricultural commodities in the past two decades. China’s food self-sufficiency has dropped from 93.6 percent in the 2000s to 65.8 percent in 2020, and it is expected to 58.8 percent by 2030. “China will face greater pressure on resources and more severe challenges in ensuring grain and food security ahead,” Cheng Guoqiang, a researcher at Beijing’s Renmin University.
Chinese President Xi Jinping had earlier this year expressed concerns over agricultural production and food supplies in the country. “Once something’s wrong with agriculture, our bowls will be held in someone else’s hands and we’ll have to depend on others for food. How can we achieve modernization in that case?” he said in an article published Qiushi, the Communist Party’s main theoretical journal. While China has made big announcements about bumper crop output and measures to improve farm productivity, experts have questioned the reliability of the official data. Oxford University researcher Genevieve Donnellon-May and Singapore-based researcher Zhang Hongzhou expressed concerns over the food security of China. There have been mounting concerns regarding China’s food security situation amid growing threats from climate shocks,” they said.