China Power | Environment | East Asia

China’s Focus on Food Security

What Xi Jinping’s latest comments on food security suggest about China’s priorities for 2022.

China’s Focus on Food Security
through increased agricultural production and diversification of imports, and President Xi Jinping’s recent comments signal continued concerns at the top about . Ahead of the 20th this year and the release of the , there are already several hints regarding what the Chinese central authorities could prioritize in terms of food security for this year and beyond, based on various recent conferences, policies, and release of . Other factors, including the potential influences of gene-edited plants, commercialization of genetically modified (GM) crops, and of a Russia-Ukraine conflict should also be considered.

At a recent Politburo Standing Committee meeting, Xi emphasized that China’s challenges and risks should be addressed in mind. He also reiterated the need to and safeguard the nation’s food security, calling for more robust measures to guarantee stable agricultural production and supply and . “The food of the Chinese people must be made by and remain in the hands of the Chinese,” by state broadcaster CCTV.

Similarly, the Central Rural Work Conference, led by Xi and bringing together officials from , also emphasized the importance of safeguarding food security, , and . The Central Rural Work conference usually sets out agricultural and rural development plans and tasks related to ( rural areas, and farmers) for the coming year. The annual rural policy document that results from the rural work conferences, is It is usually the first policy document released by the Chinese central government at the beginning of each year, months after the conference. This year’s rural policy document is yet to be published.

Safeguarding Food Security

Safeguarding food security will likely remain a key objective as it is needed to ensure social stability and by Xi. Food security is one of the (六保) made in April 2020 in response to COVID-19 and changes to the global food supply chains. Recent public comments from China’s top leaders show that importance has not waned and that there is a more significant push to safeguard food security, which will continue in 2022 and beyond. Aside from remarks by Xi that publicly link China’s , the minister of agriculture and rural affairs, Tang Renjian, has also emphasized two critical components of food security. In 2021, Tang called ” and cultivated land, the 

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There is also a greater push to ensure the supply of primary goods. In December 2021, Xi called for as well as ensure the supplies of pork, vegetables, and . In recent months, prices have increased dramatically in China. For instance, the cost of fresh vegetables 2021 from a year earlier, while the and freshwater fish increased by 20.1 percent and 18 percent, respectively, .

Grain Security and Increased Agricultural Production

As, grain security is an integral part of safeguarding food security. This has long been a top priority for the Chinese central government and is likely continue as such. Indeed, “food security” (粮食安全) literally translates as “grain security” in Chinese. With grain self-sufficiency as the main overarching goal of , China has undertaken enormous political and fiscal efforts alongside in China’s grain production patterns to strengthen its grain production. And these efforts have, to some extent, paid off. For instance, between 2003 and 2013, China’s from 430 million metric tons to over 600 million metric tons, much of which came from the country’s grain baskets – the mid-and-lower Yangtze River region, the Northeast China Plain, and the North China Plain.

. Following this, grain security was also listed in the Chinese central government’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) draft, with China aiming to meet an annual grain production target of more thanAdditionally, under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs’ current (2021-2025) on crop farming, China will stabilize its annual grain output and beat a target of 700 million metric tons by 2025 to . The plan laid out for various grains, including rice, wheat, and corn, to support these aims. For example, China will aim to keep its grain farmland above 1.75 billion mu (approximately 117 million hectares) while must stay above 1.4 billion mu and over 800 million mu, respectively.

At the Rural Work Conference in December last year, the importance of grain security was once again emphasized. Last year’s meeting vowed that China would exceeding 1.3 trillion jin (650 million metric tons) in 2022. In addition, Tang, the agriculture minister, said that the government would vigorously develop oil crops, grow high-quality varieties, and promote companion planting of . In that month, Xi that the “Chinese people should hold their rice bowls firmly in their own hands, with grains mainly produced by themselves.”

Two key areas of in China are soybeans and corn.


Soybeans are commonly used in animal food, human food, and industrial products. However, most of China’s soybean consumption is (e.g. pig feed). Meanwhile, soybean oil is the , accounting for about 40 percent of the total oil consumption in the country. Although China is the world’s with current output , the country is also the world’s largest soybean importer. Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs show that over Last year, customs data showed that soybean imports, mainly from the United States, Brazil, and Argentina, jumped 13.3 percent year on year to . The are genetically modified and are mainly processed to produce cooking oil and the meal used in animal feed. Locally produced soybeans are non-GM and primarily used for (e.g., tofu, soymilk, and soy sauce).

However, China’s reliance on foreign soybeans was viewed as a China is likely to reduce its reliance on soybean imports by increasing domestic production to as demonstrated by recent plans from China’s top leaders. For instance, in December 2021 Premier Li Keqiang said China must adopt to produce and supply grain and essential agricultural produce. He also called for more significant efforts to stabilize grain acreage and .

Following this, last month the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs announced China’s new 14th Five-Year Plan on crop farming. As part of this plan, China will aim to . By the end of 2025, China wants to have produced approximately . In addition, the planting acreage and output of to meet the country’s growing demand for feed protein and cooking oils.

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However, Beijing may also continue to , where possible, to ensure a stable supply.


Although China is the world’s largest grower of corn by area, In 2021, China had to import of corn, up 152 percent from the previous record of 11.3 million tons in 2020. Most corn imports came .

to China in 2011-12, which accounted for By 2019, however, Ukraine became China’s biggest supplier of corn, .

Although the decrease in U.S. corn imports can be , China had already sought other corn suppliers before this, with a considerable amount of corn imported from Ukraine. China has been Ukraine’s  since 2020 and views Ukraine as a critical entrepôt for its BRI ambitions. Ukrainian agricultural exports have becoming increasingly important for China. For example, recent statistics show that Ukraine exported a total of 3.5 million metric tons of corn last month, of which .

Thus the potential for a Russia-Ukraine conflict would have implications for China’s food security. Much of Ukraine’s most fertile agricultural land is in its eastern regions, In the case of a Russian incursion or land grab, the flow of goods from Ukraine would likely be impacted, including Ukraine’s agricultural exports. As a major grain exporter (e.g. corn, wheat, and rye), Ukraine plays a crucial role in . The implications of a Russian attack may well extend into the countries and regions that depend on Ukraine for food, exacerbating social and political instability as well as leading to food insecurity.

Genetically Modified (GM) Crops and Food Security

Another factor to consider is GM crops, and in particular, GM soybeans and corn. Although China was the , commercialization has not gone ahead, partly due to . Nonetheless, the country’s top policymakers have urged , or GM crops, which are seen as integral to safeguarding food security.

Recent moves from the Chinese government suggest that China will, at some stage, approve new regulations to allow the  This could free up millions of tons of soybeans and corn for other countries to import as feed for their animal industries, .

Various draft rules and announcements from suggest that China is preparing to allow greater use of GM technology in agriculture, with Beijing keen to support . Several months ago the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs laid out that integrate GM traits and published draft rules used on GM crops. In December 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs announced plans to approve the safety of produced by domestic companies followed by the approval of in January 2022.

In the latest hint that commercial planting of GM soybeans and corn will be approved, articles published by China Daily and Xinhua last month discussed the results of a in China. After an environmental and food safety assessment that lasted nearly 10 years, four GM corn varieties and three GM soybean varieties Research found that GM soybeans can reduce weeding costs by 50 percent and increase yields by 12 percent. Similarly, GM corn by between 6.7-10.7 percent.

China may also continue to show interest in gene-edited plants. Gene editing is already in place . In January this year, the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs , paving the way for faster improvements to crops. According to the draft rules, a production certificate can be applied once gene-edited plants have . This means that the lengthy field trials required for the approval of a GM plant . In addition, the accuracy of gene-editing technology makes it faster than  Taking into account some of the many pressures China and other countries face, including , ,  , , and climate change impacts alongside urbanization and , China may also encourage the development of to help increase domestic production.

At present, the full socioeconomic and environmental implications of China’s push to strengthen domestic grain production, especially of soybeans and corn, remain unclear. However, China’s aims of increasing domestic production may encounter difficulties from external factors, such as, which could add to the production cost of crops. Also, questions may be asked about China’s climate change commitments, , and food security. For example, how much water and energy are needed for Chinese farmers to meet these targets? With Xi having promised that the country will reach , how could this impact China’s ambitions of increased domestic soybean and corn productions, while simultaneously trying to  and ensuring that the country’s agricultural systems are ? For other countries, China’s reduced reliance on imported crops may result in or force farmers in exporting countries to decrease production .