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China’s food self-sufficiency faces growing costs


Over the past five years, as farm wages soared, sugar-cane growers in southern China looked across the border to Vietnam for help. They hired Vietnamese workers—nearly a quarter cheaper than Chinese ones—to tend their fields, especially during the winter harvest.



Costs are rising, crop yields are stagnating and the government is providing ever more support to keep its farms afloat.



Since a largely man-made famine that started in the late 1950s, in whichtens of millions died, China has defied the odds by feeding its people almost entirely on its own. It has provided for two-fifths of the world’s population with just a tenth of its arable land. Now, as middle-class appetites grow, China is past the point of being able to rely on its own farms. In 2011 it became the world’s largest importer of agricultural products, powered by its demand for soybeans, a feedstock for pigs.

自20世纪50年代晚期的那场造成数千万人丧生的人为大饥荒以来,中国几乎完全自给自足地养活所有人,也避免了悲剧再一次发生。中国用世界上十分之一的可耕 作土地养活了五分之二的人口。由于中产阶级的需求上涨,现在中国已经不能仅靠自己的农场来给供给所有人了。2011年,由于国内对用作猪饲料的大豆有着强大的需求,中国成为了全球最大的农产品进口市场。


But China’s openness to soy contrasts with the barricades it erects around what it deems to be key foods. Since the earliest days of its rule, the Communist Party has striven for self-sufficiency in grains and extensive self-reliance in commodities from sugar to pork. The second draft of a proposed new law on national security, which was published on May 6th, specifies the state’s responsibility for guaranteeing “grain security”, a term that Chinese officials often associate with self-sufficiency.

虽然中国对大豆的需求巨大,但是这并不意味中国政府认为大豆是关键的粮食作物。从共产党执政的早期以来,中国政府就一直通过自力更生努力实现粮食和从糖到肉 等各种商品的自给自足。在5月6日新出炉的国家安全法第二版中,具体规定了国家的责任之一是保证“粮食安全”,中国政府常常将这一术语和自给联系起来。


Maintaining self-reliance is expensive. China spent $165 billion on support for farmers in2012, twice as much as five years earlier and a third more than the European Union, according to the OECD, a rich-world think-tank. It also creates inefficiency. State-set minimum purchase prices for rice, wheat and corn are well above global levels. This helps to boost production, but it also deters farmers from diversifying into cash crops that would make better use of land resources. The state’s intervention results in thirsty crops such as wheat and corn being widely grown don land where water is scarce. Chemicals used to boost their production pollute water supplies. Yield growth has slowed since the 1990s and output plateaued in recent years, but costs continue to rise—not least of labour, as the young migrate to cities.

维持自给自足情况的代价很高。根据发达国家智库经济合作组织数据显示,2012年中国政府资助农户的金额高达1650亿美元,是五年前的两倍之多,也比欧盟 多出三分之一。这也造成了低效率。国家所规定的大米、小麦和玉米的最低购买价格要高于全球水平。这对提高生产有帮助,但却降低了农民更好利用土地资源、种植经济作物的积极性。国家的干预使得如小麦和玉米旱地作物被广泛种植在水资源紧缺的地方。原本用于提高生产的化肥污染了水源。产量增长在20世纪 90年代后开始减缓,产出在今年趋于稳定,但成本不断上升,尤其是因为年轻工人到城市工作而引起的劳工成本上升。


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