University seeks to solve China food equation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 February, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 February, 1998, 12:00am

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have been charged with finding out if China will be able to feed its people next century.

The Chinese Government has chosen an HKU research centre to analyse data from the mainland's first nationwide survey on agriculture.

An analysis by the university's Centre of Asian Studies is expected to shed light on major topical issues in mainland agriculture, including food production and land availability.

The research was commissioned by the Food and Agricultural Statistics Centre of the State Statistical Bureau (SSB) in Beijing after an agreement with the centre was signed last month.

The project, planned to run for three years, will involve the exchange of scholars in information and statistical data and joint research.

Dr Mariella Giura-Longo, research officer at the Centre of Asian Studies, told Campus Post HKU's role would be to analyse the large amount of data collected in a comprehensive agricultural survey in January last year and present the results. The survey involved seven million statisticians and enumerators. It consisted of 214 million rural household interviews in the first three weeks of January last year.

The huge task was partly funded and supervised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

A team of experts and researchers has been set up in Hong Kong to work closely with the SSB and a continuous exchange of scholars and information between the two centres has been taking place. The experts include economists, sociologists, environmentalists and geologists.

Dr Giura-Longo, an agricultural economist, said the survey would be the most systematic and reliable of its kind in relation to previous sample surveys.

'We'll examine the validity of our hypotheses and compare them with the previous database collected by the bureau to see how the situation has changed, especially the issues of food production and land availability,' she said.

'It's also important to Hong Kong as its food supply has become more and more reliant on the mainland and businessmen have invested their money on agricultural production and trade with the mainland.' One of the purposes of the joint research is to use the Geographic Information System to transfer all database material collected in the census on maps to make them more readable and understandable to the public and the mainland's policy makers.

The data will be made available on CD-ROM and hard copy and will be compared with the database available in the mainland to test several hypotheses.

Researchers aim to find out whether current agricultural development is sustainable or, in other words, whether China will be able to feed its people in the next century.

Despite gloomy predictions by some analysts, Dr Giura-Longo said China was producing most of the food needed for local consumption and there was growing evidence that it did not need to worry about the next couple of decades.

One of the controversial issues to be examined will be land availability.

Aggregate data on land use from the census has not been released.

However, from information obtained from the SSB, Dr Giura-Longo believes the data will differ greatly from previous official statistics.

'To have a better understanding of this issue, we will compare census data on agricultural land with data from other sources like previous land surveys,' she said. Census results are scheduled to be presented in an international conference at HKU at the end of the year.

The First Agricultural Census in China was conducted by the Food and Agricultural Statistics Centre.