“China’s Food Security”

Food security has become a matter of great concern in China over recent years. What factors lead to famine? What can be done about the loss of arable land? What determines food supply? How can food production be adjusted? Should we be self-sufficient or should we import and export? In China’s Food Security: Planning, or the Market? Mao Yushi and Zhao Nong attempt to address these issues.

Mao Yushi
is a well-known Chinese economist whose views often cause controversy. He spoke out in 2008, for example, against the government’s “red-line” limit of retaining 1.8 billion mu of arable land. In
China’s Food Security, Mao and Zhao Nong of the Unirule Institute of Economics point out that the great famines that China suffered in the 1950s and 1960s were caused by the planned economy – that food supply is not determined by the area of arable land. They hold that, under market conditions, China will not have any food-security issues.

However, the people are used to planning and control by the government. Among many dubious and questioning members of the public, memories of past famines are still vivid. The authors also say there is ample food supply on the international markets, through which China can make up any domestic shortfalls. But this requires foreign-currency income from exports, and smooth channels for imports.  

To actually resolve China’s food-security issues at the root, Mao and Zhao hold that farmers should be given full land rights, and a land market and trading system should be developed. The country’s food security, they conclude, should rely on the market, not the planned economy. Currently, the government is experimenting with allowing land transfers, but it will be a long time before it is clear if this will make any contribution towards food security.

China’s Food Security: Planning, or the Market?
Mao Yushi and Zhao Nong
Intellectual Property Publishing House, 2011

— By Zhang Yingying

Zhang Yingying is assistant editor in chinadialogue’s Beijing office.