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China’s drought threatens global food security

(TibetanReview.net, Feb12, 2011) China’s $2.85 trillion in foreign exchange reserves and the serious drought it is facing in its wheat producing north pose a serious danger to global food security, especially in the food importing developing world, according to a www.nytimes.com report Feb 8.

China’s state media reported Feb 7 that the country’s major wheat producing provinces in the north were facing their worst drought in 60 years. It also reported Feb 8 that Shandong Province, a cornerstone of Chinese grain production, was bracing for its worst drought in 200 years unless substantial precipitation came by the end of Feb’11.

But with $2.85 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, nearly three times that of Japan, the country with the world’s second-largest reserves, China has ample buying power to prevent any serious food shortages, noted the nytimes.com report.

“They can buy whatever they need to buy, and they can outbid anyone,” it quoted Robert S. Zeigler, the director general of the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, in the Philippines, as saying. That will obviously mean serious trouble for other developing food-importing countries.

"China's grain situation is critical to the rest of the world – if they are forced to go out on the market to procure adequate supplies for their population, it could send huge shockwaves through the world's grain markets," Zeigler was quoted as saying. It was China’s self-sufficiency in grain which prevented world food prices from moving even higher when they spiked three years ago, he has noted.

The report noted that world wheat prices were already surging, adding that they had been widely cited as one reason for protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. It cited a separate United Nations report the week before as saying global food export prices had reached record levels in Jan’11.

For now, China is talking more about bringing water to the drought plagued north, rather than importing wheat. China Daily online Feb 10 said the country would spend $1 billion to battle the drought and another at least 6.7 billion yuan ($1.02 billion) to divert water to affected areas, to construct emergency wells and irrigation facilities, and to take other measures.

The report said some 2.57 million people and 2.79 million livestock were suffering from drinking water shortages. It said eight major grain-producing provinces, including Shandong, Jiangsu, Henan, Hebei and Shanxi, had been affected. “Together they produce more than 80 percent of China's winter wheat,” the report added. It said that by Feb 9, a total of 7.8 million hectares of winter wheat had been affected by the drought in the eight provinces, accounting for 42.4 percent of their total wheat-sown area.

The report said, however, that China can still expect normal wheat harvest if there is sufficient rainfall in Mar’11. "We can still expect a wheat harvest if these regions have sufficient rainfall next month," it quoted Lu Bu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, as saying.

Historically speaking, major droughts have stirred people to rebel and overthrow, and the Chinese leaders are acutely aware of this historicity. Both President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have made separate visits to drought-stricken areas in the previous week, and each called for “all-out efforts” to cope with the water shortage.

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Last updated on Feb 12, 2011 10:10:55