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Officials fast to slow down grain waste

By RJ Whitehead , 16-Oct-2012

Government grain officials across China have joined a movement to “experience 24 hours of hunger” as part of a wider campaign to promote public awareness of food security and to curb grain waste.

According to Xinhua, the move was initiated by the country's State Administration of Grain (SAG), which called on its local branch staff across China today to voluntarily fast to mark World Food Day. It said that the event was aimed at reminding citizens not to forget about grain conservation during years of good harvests.

Official data shows that China's grain output grew 4.5% last year to 5.7bn tonnes, marking the eighth year of growth. Agricultural experts have forecast that output is likely to rise further during the remainder of this year.

Wasteful practices

However, analysts estimate that about 85m tonnes of grain are wasted in the country alongside consumption and storage. Also, about 10% of food is wasted daily at family dinner tables.

Shu Gang, director of the Chengdu Grain Administration in southwest China's Sichuan Province, told the Chinese news service he hoped the fast would correct the common domestic misconception that China is not short on grain.

The Chinese government has been attaching great importance to food security in a country that has a population of 1.3 billion to feed. Although more farmers and urban families are living relatively well-off lives following over three decades of economic development, part of the nation's population in rural or mountainous areas do live in poverty and do not have enough to eat.

However, many netizens have cast doubt on the effectiveness of the one-day fast. But Yang Pu, a commentator with cnhubei.com, a media portal in Hubei province, applauded the fasters' gesture.

"There have been car-free days and events such as turning off the lights for one hour in parts of the country. Like one-day fasting, they serve as a wake-up call in the face of impending danger," he said.

According to Chen Xiwen, a Communist Party agricultural official, China imported over 6bn tonnes of grain last year.

Throwing it away

Paradoxically, alongside the food shortage there is alarming waste. According to a report by China Central Television, the country's catering industry alone wastes food that could feed 200 million people a year.

According to an investigation conducted at universities in Beijing, one-third of the food that students purchase in canteens is thrown away, Wu Weihua, professor of biology at China Agricultural University, told Xinhua. Each year, students throw away enough food to feed about 10 million people, the investigation showed. 

Shu said: "Many young people have no sense of starvation. Fasting can awaken people's memory of it."

Known as the "land of abundance" since ancient times, Shu’s native Chengdu Plain has been a major farming area in the country. But with accelerated urbanisation and population growth, grain demand lags behind production there.

In 2017, the city will consume 8m tons of grain, with nearly 70% coming from other parts of China, compared to 50 percent now, Shu said. 

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