There is trouble researching information or finding a historical timeline to see when the last time China was able to produce enough food to feed itself, but it is safe to say it was some time before Communism set in. Under Mao we know that 43 million people died, like when he had people go after birds claiming they were eating grain people needed. As a result there were more pests eating grain. This happened during what Mao called the Great Leap Froward, a kind of industrial revolution (1958-1960).
In more recent history, China completed the Three Gorges Dam where over 60 thousand acres of farmland was lost almost forever, or until the water is drained away. This was valuable land that contributed to China being able to grow food to feed it’s people. With the dam people are forced into cities to find jobs and China had to import even more food. China lost 70% of its rice and 50% of its grain production with this one bad decision.
Ever since 2003 China has become dependent on food imports and become a net importer of food. The EU has seen a growth of 14.3% in food exported to China each year from 2001 to 2005. In 2010 the UN stated that China will find it increasingly more difficult to feed it’s own people and unable to keep up with exporting food. Reasons for this: land degradation, reliance on fossil fuels, increased use of chemicals in farming, cities pushing outward which takes valuable farmland out of production and increasing water shortages. This is the same thing you can see in the U.S., and anywhere U.S. farm practices have replaced traditional organic farming methods used for thousands of years.
Some authors such as Peng Gong claim that it is not a matter of whether China can feed itself but rather a will of the people and whether they want to feed themselves. One could strongly disagree, especially in the face of millions of acres of farmland lost due to development and western farm practices. China will have to far more innovative to be able to grow enough food, and technology won’t save China.
There is hope. China could again produce much more of its own food, with some shifts in thinking and practices. Here is a list:
1) China needs to stop farming fish in toxic waters, eaten by the Chinese and exported. Raising fish in a more traditional method along in rice fields would be a better way. Carp are added to rice patties where they feed on plant material and insects. When the rice is ready for harvest so are the fish.
2) China can replant many of it’s forests to begin building food forests to raise several crops in a smaller space.
3) Cities have roof top space, balconies, street level space and some buildings can have the south side converted to food production. Many dense cities will not see a huge increase in food production as they are not designed to allow maximum solar gain but they can still product something.
4) Follow Cuba’s example after their Special Period and return to an organic method of farming in order to grow food wherever there is space – near cities or towns and in the country. By using intensive farming methods (and permaculture methods) China could once again grow much of its food.
5) Not follow a western diet that is meat laden. China will need to return to a more vegetarian, or almost vegetarian diet as they once had using meat as a flavouring rather than making it the centre of a meal.
Following these simple steps will put China back on the path toward being able to produce it’s own food. There are arguments that organic food production can’t keep up, that’s just not true, and studies since the 1970s have shown that. It is the only method that keeps land productive for centuries while western farm practices over time have caused degradation of the land leading to lower crop yields.
It is not too late for the Chinese to go back to their roots, as many of it’s people still know how to farm and produce food, something that is no longer true in the U.S.
- U.S. barnyards help China super-size food production (chinadailymail.com)
- Feeding the World’s Largest Population: How China’s Dietary Habits are Changing World Agriculture (triplepundit.com)