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food supply in china


In their article “Cultivated land and food supply in China” in Land Use Policy, Doctor Hong Yang, a corresponding author from Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology and Professor of Institute of Geography of the Chinese Academy of Science Xiubin Li analyze the changes in farmland in the People’s Republic of China and their aftermaths on the environment and food supply of the country. Using statistic data in their analyses, the authors state that the reduction of farmland took place in the South-Eastern part of the country, but at the same time, increasing in it emerged in the North-Western part and frontier provinces, which have less fertile soil than the South-Eastern provinces. Therefore, both authors come to a conclusion that contemporary Chinese strategy of the land management system could not bring sufficient good to food supply in China in the long-term future because the more fertile soil in the South-West has been seized for constructions for the industrialization of China, and the reclamation of the less fertile soil in other provinces has been being made at the cost of the environment. As the researchers state, only improving productivity of fertile soil with the help of ameliorating and investments in agriculture could be the most effective means to improve the food supply in China.


Hong Yang and Xiubin Li (2000) used the position method in their research work. They determine the major factors that caused problems with the cultivated land in China paying attention to the historical development of the country. At the same time, they did not mention the major reason of the Great Famine in China, which caused, as a famous historian Frank Dikotter (2010) states, over forty-five million deaths of the Chinese because of the Great Leap Forward. This communist strategy caused badly planned and performed irrigation works, which led to floods and droughts (p. 333). The next reason, as Lynch (2008) states, was changes in the cultivation of soil by a notorious Soviet pseudo scientist Trofim Lysenko and his colleague Terentiy Maltsev. According to Lysenko, there was not any competition between plants of the same species, and if peasants could increase the density of seedlings, they would gain more crops (Lynch 2008, p. 57). Maltsev proposed to plough the soil to the depth of one or two meters to gain the development of strong root system of plants because there was a more productive soil there. The Great sparrow campaign made things worse. Of course, they were the major reasons of the famine, which lasted from 1958 till 1962 because of the rough mistakes of the Chinese communists. To make things worse, the Chinese communist government imitated all Soviet extensive methods in the industrial and agricultural managements, which were leading to the catastrophic policy of the Great Leap Forward. The Great Famine has determined further political and economic development of China, which caused the economic reforms after Mao’s death in the late 1970s, the panic of the grain-market crisis of 1993 and 1994, which along with the famous forecast of Lester Brown work “Who will feed China?” made Chinese scholars pay attention to the revision of the approach for the reduction of the cultivated land.

The authors choose an explicit theory in their arguments, using statistic data of the State and Provincial Statistical Bureau and the State Land Administration to consider the state of affairs with the cultivated land on national and provincial levels during the past twenty years. Thus, they made a diagram of the reduction of the total arable land from 1978 till 1996, which is a very helpful document for the explanation of the problem with the cultivated land in China. The next document is a map of the rural areas of China for the formation of the general idea of the Chinese regions of the cultivated land. According to it, China was divided into three regions: Coastal, Central, and Western. The table of the changes in the cultivated land by the Chinese regions forms an idea that the reduction of the cultivated land in the Coastal region was by 3.9 percent from 1978 till 1987, and 3.4 percent from 1987 till 1996. Meanwhile, the reduction of the cultivated land in the Central region was 4.1 percent from 1978 till 1987, and 2.6 percent from 1987 till 1996. The reduction of the cultivated land in the Western-border region accounted to 5.1percent from 1978 till 1987, but from 1987 till 1996, the cultivated land increased by 6 percent. It means that the cultivated land was reduced in the Coastal and Central region, and the grain loss was 7.59 and 6.19 million tons respectively. The increase in the Western region offset about 80 percent of the loss of grain because of the smaller productivity of the land there.

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The next major point of the work is data of grain yields per crop in each region. Thus, according to the SSB, the most productive land in the Coastal region can bring 5071 kg/ha, but in the Central region it brings 4502 kg/ha, and in the Western region it brings 3686 kg/ha. As the authors state, they could not consider data from individual farms because of their absence. Nevertheless, the considered data are a very important evidence to consider the whole problem with food supply in China from the point of view of its progress in the future due to the growth of the Chinese population. According to the authors, the cultivated plots of land are used in China for crops during three years then the land is used under pasture, and after that, it can be reused for crops. As a result, it leads both to erosion of environment and loss in productivity of the land. The next problem is the usage of deforestation and irrigation of the soil, which was under lakes and ponds. At the same time, the more fertile soil is being seized by various industrial constructions in the Coastal region. It causes changes in the climate and brings about serious problems in the environment. Ma and Ortolano (2000) state that China suffered heavily from the environmental deterioration. Sixteen of the most polluted world’s towns from twenty are situated in China and deforestation with badly planned irrigation works pose a real danger to the future of China.


The People’s Republic of China is the second largest economy in the world with a highly developed modern industry. Unfortunately, the authors did not give such statistic data as quantity of grain, rice and other rural products per capita and how many food products China imports nowadays. On the other hand, China can provide its citizens with imported food supply because such traditional exporters of food products as Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Australia, and Ukraine can easily solve this problem. At the same time, each country should develop its agriculture for balancing economy, and environmental issues are the most significant aspects to preserve the country for the pollution caused by future generations. Therefore, authors’ arguments and evidences in the form of statistic data are very persuasive and useful for changing approaches to solve problems with the use of the cultivated land in China. Of course, everybody should keep in mind the tragic historical experience from the past to prevent it in the future, and the research of Doctor Yang and Professor Li explains how to solve both food supply and environmental problems with the help of economical use of the natural resources and enhancement of the cultivated land.