Home > Solutions > Post-harvest Loss Management and Food Systems
February 25, 2024  China Daily   

High-Tech Can Help Boost Food Security

Opinions;PHLM and Food System;Food Security;High-Tech;Consumption

A+ A-

The central authorities emphasizing the paramount importance of food security has become a sort of tradition for China. The importance of food security for China can be gauged from the fact that the top leader has reiterated that solving the problem of food has always been a top priority for governance.

However, the focus on food security has changed over the years. While in the past, the primary concern of the government was to ensure adequate quantity of food, today, after achieving success in addressing hunger, the country focuses more on providing high-quality food for the people.

In the past, China struggled to meet the basic needs of the people for enough food. In 1978, per capita grain production was 317 kilograms, with rice and wheat accounting for 198 kg. However, direct per capita consumption of grains was 248 kg, indicating a reliance on coarse grains and other staples like corn, sorghum and potatoes due to inadequate rice and wheat production. Meat consumption was limited, primarily reserved for special occasions due to unavailability.

In 2023, the total grain output nationwide reached 695 million tons, an increase of 1.3 percent over the previous year, with the output remaining above 650 million tons for nine consecutive years. The per capita grain possession exceeds 490 kg, which is higher than the internationally recognized safety standard of 400 kg.

China's rice and wheat production has for many years exceeded the direct consumption needs of the people. The surplus production is used for food processing, animal feed, and national reserves.

Consumer demand for better-quality food has become increasingly evident in recent years, consumption of meat and other highly valued products like fruits keeps rising.

China has significantly increased imports of rice, wheat and fruits, too. This, incidentally, doesn't suggest domestic production shortage but rather reflects the need to import higher-quality products to meet consumers' growing demand for them.

The changing nature of food security in China can be mainly attributed to a significant increase in people's income levels. From 1978 to 2023, the average annual growth rate of per capita disposable income, adjusted for inflation, was about 7 percent. With people earning more, the focus has shifted from merely having enough to eat to aspiring to eat well and eat better.

The essence of food security lies in bolstering production to meet the evolving consumer demands. Chinese consumers today demand higher-quality products. To meet one of these evolving demands, China has to produce more animal products (which requires increasing fodder production and better livestock feed conversion efficiency), improve the quality of agricultural products (especially those that are produced in excess and yet have to be imported, such as rice, wheat and fruits), and adopt more efficient methods to reduce resource and labor inputs, in order to reduce costs, raise producers' income and protect the ecological environment.

To improve food quality and better safeguard food security, China needs to make concerted efforts on multiple fronts, with the primary focus being on agricultural technology and more dynamic agricultural policy innovations.

The development of the agricultural sector hinges on the continuous innovations in technology. Without advancements in agricultural technology, it's impossible to increase production, improve product quality and reduce production costs. Agricultural technology here includes biotechnology, facility and equipment technology, information technology, and storage and processing technology.

The government's recent emphasis on seed technology, including genetically modified seed varieties, demonstrates its commitment to ensure food security. The recent approval for the commercial production of 51 genetically modified corn and soybean varieties is aimed at reducing production costs, minimizing losses due to pest attacks, and boosting yield. Agricultural scientists have, accordingly, shifted their focus from finding ways to increase yield to research and development in high-quality varieties, which has yielded good results.

Another crucial area of technology innovation is agricultural facilities and equipment, which play a pivotal role in reducing labor input and increasing land-use efficiency.

Besides, promoting innovation in production organization is essential to fully harnessing the benefits of advancements in technology, and the essence of innovation in production lies in expanding the operational scale. In this regard, it is to be noted that traditional small-scale farming hinders the application of advanced technologies in agriculture.

For livestock farming, two prominent innovation models in production are large-scale enterprise-based animal breeding and the more prevalent company-plus-farmer model. As for crop production, especially in the plains, various models such as new production cooperatives, larger-scale family farms, and commercialized production services by special organizations are emerging.

Furthermore, two key factors stand out when it comes to safeguarding food security. The first is increasing investment in public research institutions to promote innovations in agricultural technology, as private agribusiness sector in China is very weak in agricultural technology research compared with that in the United States and European Union countries.

And second, promoting the construction of high-standard farmlands will not only meet the soil fertility needs but also align with the necessity to expand operational scales and promote mechanization in agriculture. Developing higher-standard farmlands requires, among other things, substantial government investment and coordination to join scattered plots and turn them into bigger plots in order to increase yield.

In essence, innovations in technology, production and agricultural policy form the linchpin of China's agricultural transformation, ensuring a future where not just quantity but also food quality meets the evolving expectations and demands of its people.

The author is former president of China Agricultural University.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.


High-Tech Can Help Boost Food Security


High-Tech Can Help Boost Food Security