It was in 1995 that Beijing first tasked every provincial governor with the difficult job of ensuring sufficient grain plantations and output in their provinces – an accountability system known as “provincial governors looking after the rice bag”. The Chinese government, under then-premier Li Peng, imposed the task upon provincial governors because Beijing saw great dangers posed by a grain-supply shortage amid runaway food-price inflation. China’s official consumer price index shot up 21.7 per cent in 1994 mainly due to rising food prices, exceeding Beijing’s target of 10 per cent and stirring horrible memories of hyperinflation in the late 1980s that led to widespread unhappiness with the government and eventually a pro-democracy movement in 1989. The system, under which a provincial governor must assume responsibility for the local grain output, has largely worked. It has helped China maintain a steady rise in grain output – China’s official figures claimed that the country set a grain-output record for 17 consecutive years, through 2020. China food security: Beijing calls for biotech breakthrough to improve seed industry After a quarter century, however, the issue of grain-supply security has again returned to prominence on Beijing’s agenda. Provincial Communist Party chiefs, who have traditionally stayed aloof of specific economic works, will be held accountable for grain output along with provincial governors, from this year on. Like in 1995, Beijing’s re-emphasis on grain-supply security has its basis. First of all, it reflects Beijing’s worry about the outside world, which is becoming more volatile and unpredictable, and China has to rely on itself to move ahead. The same thinking is underpinning many of Beijing’s strategies, from “dual circulation” to indigenous innovation. For a country with a bitter history of hunger and famine, it is logical for Beijing not to take any chances on this. Secondly, while China’s official outputs of rice, wheat and corn offers may be reassuring, its imports of soybeans, corn and sorghum – grains commonly used in animal feed – may have all hit new highs in 2020. In other words, China’s reliance on imports to ultimately feed its increasingly affluent people is much higher than the headline figures suggest. China-Africa relations: Chinese agriculture experts help boost crop yields According to a recent speech by Chen Xiwen, one of the nation’s most respected agricultural experts, China’s imported farm products require about 60 million hectares of arable land, or nearly 40 per cent of China’s total arable land. If measured by this indicator, China’s total reliance on imports for its food supply would be about 30 per cent. Thirdly, China’s agriculture output faces challenges including an ageing rural population. Young farmers are rare these days amid an exodus of talents to towns and big cities. At the latest rural work conference, the issue of grain-supply security was highlighted as part of Beijing’s broad strategy to “revitalise” the countryside . But it will be a long battle if Beijing wants to lure talents, capital and technology back to rural areas. Therefore, though China is not facing an immediate shortage in its grain-supply, Beijing is wasting no time in trying to fix its vulnerabilities and lay a solid foundation for its security.