Although 2004 is now expected to yield a bumper grain harvest in China, with provinces announcing record crop levels, Beijing is taking action to halt the country's fall in per-hectare yield of cropland over recent years.
Beijing is hoping to raise grain output by adding more sown acreage of hybrid rice, and also a "super hybrid rice".
China's total rice output has been declining since 1999, along with a drop in the per-hectare yield of rice paddies, according to the China Rice Research Institute. In order to ensure food security China needs to sow new crops.
Rice remains the basic staple of the Chinese diet. More than 60 per cent of China's population eats some rice daily and rice accounts for 40 per cent of China's total cereals consumption, according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in the Philippines.
IRRI believes that "super rice" is the answer as it has been successfully used in the Philippines, where it is called "Gloria" rice after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who encouraged farmers to plant it.
Over the past five years the aggregated sown acreage of new hybrid rice strains totalled 7.47 million hectares in China, with an average 10 per cent rise in yield by using hybrid rice seed rather than ordinary seed.
China's sown grain acreage stabilised at around 110 million hectares over a period of about 20 years, from 1978 to 1999. The country's grain production capability rose from 300 million tons to 500 million tons during that time due to increases in per-hectare yields.
As a result, over the past half century, China has had to import more rice than it exported only three times. As previously reported in AP-FoodTechnology.com, on an international level, the news that China's domestic grain supply is increasing will have little impact on world supplies. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation also said that tighter rice supplies in major exporting countries also would reduce tradable volumes.
"After rising for several months, international prices of most cereals eased back in recent weeks, according to the Food Outlook, reflecting 'generally favourable prospects for 2004 crops.' Prices also eased for rice as China and Thailand released rice stocks onto tight domestic markets," reported the UN News Service.
Futures contracts for unprocessed rice reached a seven-year high, equivalent to $US253 a ton, last month at the Chicago Board of Trade. Prices may rise further if China, the biggest producer and consumer of rice, becomes a net importer of the grain this year.
Chinese state newspaper, the English-language China Daily reported that the EU has initiated negotiations with other trading partners, including the United States, Pakistan, India and Thailand, on the application of tariff quotas on imports of rice.
"The Chinese side will watch the equality and fairness of the application of tariff quota on imports of rice," reported China Daily.
Rice imports and exports are the subject of discussions underway between South Korea, China and the United States, with a Korean delegation due to visit Beijing today, according to the Korea Times.
A second round of meetings are scheduled with the US in Switzerland, next Tuesday, 22 June 2004. Korean rice trade discussions with a further seven countries, including Thailand and Australia are due to take place later this month.