What should be done to ensure food security?
Updated: 2016-01-16 09:24
By Wei Longbao and Chen Zhangliang(China Daily)
Provide policy support to farmers
The seeming contradiction between ever-growing food production and importing food products lies in prices - imported agricultural products are cheaper than those grown in China. For example, the price of corn imported from the United States is about 1.14 yuan ($0.17) per kilogram, but corn grown in China costs about 2 yuan per kg.
Among the many reasons for higher grain prices in China, the primary one is rising labor costs and the country's declining demographic dividend. It is good that Chinese workers are being paid higher wages, but that also increases commodity prices.
Since China's population is expected to stop rising after some years, it is necessary that food growers reduce their production costs using means other than lowering workers' wages. That will, however, require the government to provide policy support to food growers, for which it has to take certain measures.
First, theoretically all land in China belongs to the State and farmers can cultivate the plots they have the land-use rights for. Given this fact, the government should allow farmers to rent out their land-use rights to others to facilitate the merger of small farms into bigger ones, because only when a farm is big enough can a farmer reduce the production costs with the help of better management and machines.
Second, the government should encourage farmers to use more machines. True, for years the authorities have been encouraging farmers to do so, but they have to take more measures to produce better results. Some scholars worry that the use of more machines will reduce agricultural jobs, but now that the supply of labor is declining such concerns seem unnecessary.
Third, policymakers should support experimentation with new technologies, and apply them if the experiments are successful. For instance, as the debate over the safety of genetically modified food products continues, the authorities need to organize transparent discussions among experts, so that people get to know whether GM foods are safe and decide whether they should consume them.
The author is a senior agricultural researcher at the China Association for Science and Technology. The article is an excerpt from the speech he delivered at the Urban China Initiative annual meeting.