BEIJING, Dec. 26, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — In a major speech at the central rural work conference from Friday to Saturday, where top officials mapped out policy priorities for agriculture, rural areas, and farmers in 2023, President Xi Jinping again stressed the need to protect food security, saying that ensuring a stable and safe supply of food and important agricultural products is always the top priority for building a strong agricultural country.
Since becoming leader of the world’s most populous country a decade ago, Xi has kept one thing very close to his heart: Securing the "rice bowl" for 1.4 billion Chinese people. "Of all things, eating matters the most," as he put it during a meeting in March.
Such a personal focus on food security became especially prominent in 2022, as the world faced what the UN called "a year of unprecedented hunger" due to a confluence of factors, ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to extreme weather, to geopolitical conflicts, which also exerted great pressure on China’s food production and supply.
Over the past year, images of Xi visiting apple orchards in Yan’an, Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, rice fields in Meishan, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, and a seed laboratory in Sanya, South China’s Hainan Province– interacting with farmers, scientists, and local officials and learning about every aspect of food production – vividly captured the Chinese leader’s special focus on putting food on the tables of Chinese people.
Such a special focus translated into robust policy support and other resources for food production and supply, and offered profound inspiration and encouragement for everyone involved in the crucial work from farmers to scientists to local officials. As a result, China not only withstood multiple challenges but actually saw a bumper harvest and record grain output that effectively ensures food security, while also making steady progress in technological innovation and agricultural modernization to ensure food self-reliance.
The Chinese President’s focus on food security also transcends national borders, as he has used various international occasions – from the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan – to push for global cooperation to address the acute global food crisis, putting into practice China’s vision for a human community with a shared future.
Treasure land of grain production
"It gave us profound inspiration and encouragement," Liu Chao, the head of the village of Yongfeng in Meishan, told the Global Times, as she recalled with palpable excitement Xi’s visit to the village in June. "We have been firmly holding on to this land and quietly growing food for so many years, and we finally welcomed our highlight moment."
During the inspection tour, Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, visited rice fields and interacted with local farmers and officials, learning about local efforts in advancing high-standard farmland development and boosting grain production, among other things.
"The general secretary said that our land is a treasure land of grain production, which profoundly inspired and encouraged us all," Liu said, noting that local farmers and officials are more confident and determined to preserve the high-standard farmlands and contribute more to the nation’s food production.
The high-standard farmland in Yongfeng, which covers an area of 3,100 mu (206 hectares), is one of the most successful demonstration models for high-standard farmlands in Sichuan. Preserving and developing high-standard farmland is a crucial part of China’s effort to ensure food security. During a meeting with national political advisers from the sectors of agriculture and social security in March, Xi stressed that China must carry out a project to protect its fertile earth and strive to develop 66.7 million hectares of high-quality farmland.
Xi said at the meeting that China must give greater priority to bolstering its capacity in agricultural production and make unrelenting efforts to ensure grain security, while putting emphasis on food self-reliance and various efforts to ensure that "the Chinese rice bowl is firmly held in our own hands."
The president’s inspection tours in numerous places across the country over the past year also focused on various aspects of the effort to ensure food self-reliance, including technological innovation in seed production and overall agricultural modernization.
In April, Xi visited a seed laboratory in Sanya, stressing the crucial role of "Chinese seeds" in ensuring the country’s food security. "To ensure that China’s seed resources are self-supporting and under better control, self-reliance must be achieved in seed technology," he said.
In Yan’an, after visiting an apple orchard and learning about apple-growing techniques, picking method, apple variety and quality and sales prices, Xi called for efforts to advance rural revitalization across the board and ceaselessly strive for the modernization of agriculture and rural areas.
The trip to Yan’an, a "holy land" for the Chinese revolution, came less than a week after the conclusion of the 20th CPC National Congress in October, where Xi, in a report to the momentous meeting, stressed that "we must reinforce the foundations for food security on all fronts."
"After the general secretary left, our [local government] issued plans and has taken actions. His trip is of great significance to the promotion of our project," Zhang Runsheng, head of the village of Nangou in Yan’an, where Xi visited, told the Global Times. Apples have become the "happy fruit of getting rid of poverty and becoming prosperous," he said.
As Zhang noted, the president’s visits and special focus on food security are a great boost to all aspects of the food production chain both in terms of moral and policy support, which ultimately yield great results in expanding food production and ensuring food security, farmers, local officials and analysts said.
Thanks to the robust efforts, China saw a bumper harvest in the past year. In 2022, China’s grain output reached 686.53 billion kilograms, an increase of 0.5 percent from the year before, reaching a new record high and marking the eighth consecutive year that the country’s total grain production has exceeded 650 billion kilograms, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Meanwhile, the area of cultivated farmland stood at 1.775 billion mu, up 0.6 percent from 2021, and per unit output of grain reached 387 kilograms per mu, the NBS said.
China’s achievements in securing food production and security stands out globally, as the world is facing a food crisis of unprecedented proportions, the largest in modern history due to geopolitical conflict, climate shocks, and the threat of a global recession, according to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).
The WFP noted that as many as 828 million people worldwide go to bed hungry every night and a total of 49 million people in 49 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.
China, which has nearly one-fifth of the world’s population, also faced a series of challenges in ensuring food production. On top of the COVID-19 epidemic, rare autumn floods in the northern part of the country, an extended drought, and high temperatures in the south exerted great pressure on production. Farmers also faced a spike in fertilizer prices and other ripple effects from the global food crisis.
"Despite many challenges, China saw another bumper harvest this year. And the main factors behind this are that the Chinese government attaches great importance to this. Both Party committees and governments assume the responsibility for ensuring food production and have allocated strong, effective financial support," Li Guoxiang, a research fellow at the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
In the report to the 20th CPC National Congress, Xi said "We will ensure that both Party committees and governments assume responsibility for ensuring food security." At the central rural work conference, Xi also called for a strict assessment in order to urge all localities to truly shoulder the responsibility of ensuring food security, among other efforts to secure food supplies, including expanding output and reducing food waste.
Li noted that with both Party committees and governments assuming the responsibility for ensuring food production, the supervision of local governments has been effectively strengthened. Also, special work groups were formed to strictly implement national policies and tackle various challenges for food production, and farmers were incentivized by financial support to increase production.
Over the last year, China’s central government issued a subsidy of 120.5 billion yuan ($17.3 billion) in advance for the protection of cultivated land fertility, continued to increase the minimum purchase price of wheat and rice, and successively allocated a one-time subsidy of 40 billion yuan to grain farmers, which doubled from the previous year, according to the China Media Group (CMG).
Also, China’s efforts to create high-standard farmland, promote technological innovations, and establish mechanisms to ensure supply of agricultural materials also played major roles in the bumper harvest.
China will create 1 billion mu of high-standard farmland, which will increase output per mu by as much as 20 percent, while the country’s mechanization rate of crop cultivation and harvest exceeded 72 percent, the CMG reported on December 12.
The government’s support for smallholder farmers in China, who total 250 million and produce about 80 percent of food in China, is crucial for the country’s success in maintaining domestic food stability amid the global food crises, the World Economic Forum said in a report in November.
A bumper harvest in the world’s most populous country is also of great significance for the world, Li said. "This year, many countries in the world have sharply reduced grain production. Affected by the Ukraine crisis, global grain prices have fluctuated sharply this year. The increase in China’s grain production has positive significance for global food security and the stabilization of global grain prices, and has made China’s contribution," he said.
‘Candle in the dark’ for the world
Aside from putting a special focus on guaranteeing the "rice bowl" of the Chinese people, during high-profile overseas trips over the last year, Xi also actively pushed for joint efforts to tackle the global food crisis.
In September, while attending the 22nd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the SCO in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Xi stressed the need to implement the statements on safeguarding international energy and food security adopted by this summit.
At the meeting, the Chinese leader also announced that China will provide developing countries in need with emergency humanitarian assistance in grain and other supplies worth 1.5 billion yuan.
In November, while attending the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, Xi noted that food and energy security is the most pressing challenge in global development, stressing that the way out of this is to enhance cooperation on market supervision and regulation, build partnerships on commodities, develop an open, stable, and sustainable commodities market, and work together to unclog supply chains and stabilize market prices.
Xi also called for opposition to any attempt to politicize food and energy issues or use them as tools and weapons, and announced that China has put forward the International Cooperation Initiative on Global Food Security in the G20.
The Chinese leader’s call for global efforts to tackle the issues and China’s contribution to global common development have drawn widespread praise overseas.
Veronika S. Saraswati, China Study Unit Convener at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies Indonesia, said that China’s foreign policy principle of building respectful and non-dominative economic partnerships and focusing on multilateralism brings "great hope" to the world.
"In contrast to the perspective of unilateralism that eliminates other countries, China with the perspective of multilateralism emphasizes respect for other countries as well as fair partnership because no countries can stand alone. Definitely, this principle is ‘a candle in the dark’ amid world uncertainty and international economic recession," Saraswati told the Global Times.
More than hope, China’s contributions to global food security have been felt across the world. Thanks to the hybrid rice technology, China has not only managed to feed nearly 20 percent of the world’s population with less than 9 percent of the world’s arable land, but has also become the largest food producer and the third largest food exporter in the world.
Over the last year, as many countries faced acute food crises and natural disasters, China-donated food has also helped many people evade hunger. For example, as Sri Lanka faced a serious economic crisis, China donated a total of 5,500 metric tons of rice to the country over five months. The Chinese government also donated food and other forms of humanitarian assistance to many other countries, including Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"Food security is fundamental to human survival," Xi said in a written statement to the International Forum on Hybrid Rice Assistance and Global Food Security in November, noting that China will make a greater contribution to the speedy implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to building a world free from hunger and poverty.