Farm sector faces pressure from rising affluence, urbanisation, Boao Forum panel hears

Growing affluence and rapid urbanisation will increase demands on the agricultural sector

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 5:05am

Even though grain production has grown for the past nine years, China must continue to boost investment in agriculture because demand for food is set to soar thanks to an increasingly affluent population and rapid urbanisation, government officials and industry players have cautioned.

A surge in agricultural imports and sluggish growth in farm profits mean the mainland should stay alert to food security instead of being content with past harvests, members of a panel discussion at the Boao Forum for Asia warned yesterday.

Agriculture Minister Han Changfu said Asian nations should deepen agricultural co-operation to ensure food security in a region where 560 million people are malnourished.

He called for more spending on agriculture to improve productivity, better training for farmers to improve their skills, and better storage to avoid waste.

Asian countries should enhance their influence and have a greater say on the world's food security issue

"Asian countries should enhance their influence and have a greater say on the world's food security issue," he said. "We should have bilateral and multilateral co-operation in agriculture, and learn each other's policies, regulations, technologies and experiences in agriculture."

The deputy head of Guangxi's government, Chen Zhangliang , said several problems that threatened food security lay hidden behind the past decade's growing grain harvests.

Although figures show grain output has grown, China had recorded historic deficits in agricultural trade, he said. Last year, it imported agricultural products worthy nearly US$50 billion than those it exported.

Chen said mainland farmers were losing out in global competition because they lacked large-scale operations, machinery and modern technologies.

Sugarcane growers in Guangxi, for example, had borne big losses in the past few years because businesses chose to buy much of their raw sugar from abroad because of lower global sugar prices.

"Many officials think there's nothing to worry about in agriculture, since we see production growing every year. This is a very dangerous signal," Chen warned.

Yu Xubo , president of the nation's biggest food producer and trader, Cofco, said mainland consumption of meat had risen by 25 per cent in the past decade, and that of milk had more than doubled. "And this is not the end of growth," he said. "In the future, as the government pushes forward with urbanisation, the structure of food consumption will continue to change … the consumption of meat, eggs and milk will accelerate along with urbanisation."

Industry players said the mainland urgently needed to boost its biotechnology and develop its own seeds.

Zhang Yuxi , chairman of Xinfadi, Beijing's leading agricultural product market, said foreign species accounted for half of China's seed, from soya beans to corn and flowers, and "international seed developers are gradually increasing their control over us".