Chinese staples

Corn production overtakes rice, leading to greater insecurity concerns

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Rice, Maize, Food

Corn production overtakes rice, leading to greater insecurity concerns
Raising further concerns over China’s long-term food security, the production of corn in the country overtook that of rice for the first time last year, according to a report by the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences.

The study said that corn production in China increased to nearly 210m tons in 2012, up about 8% from 2011, compared to a rise of just 1.6% in paddy rice production to around 204m tons over the same period. The report also highlighted that China's agricultural dependency on international markets increased to 21.1% in 2012, up from 20.7% in 2011.

Growing imports

China is the world’s largest rice producer and consumer of rice, and used to import small quantities of the grain until 2010. However, rice imports tripled in just one year to around 1.8m tonnes in 2011, and will continue to grow this year to the tune of 2.5m tonnes.

At the same time, a US Department of Agriculture announcement earlier this month predicted China would see a modest growth of 1m tonnes in rice production in 2013—alongside an increase in demand of 4m tonnes.

Analysts suggest that changing food habits may be behind China’s dependency on imports of rice and other grains. With a growing economy, the consumption of meat and alcohol has been on the rise, and both of these segments use corn as an ingredient. 

Sign of insecurity

Officials said this increased dependency on food imports should be seen as a sign of food insecurity in China. Guo Wei, director of the National Policy Research Office at the State Council, told local sources that imports of food commodities are growing mainly because of the use of grains like corn to make starch, albumen powder and ethanol. 

"China's foodstuff demand has expanded fast mainly because food has been used for purposes other than basic feeding​," he said, adding that the authorities should pursue a policy of reducing the use of grain for non-food processing purposes, and encouraging the population to eat less meat and poultry.

The government increased taxes on corn processing and reduced subsidies for ethanol making last year to discourage imports of corn, according to local sources.

The report attributed the surge in corn demand to rapid development of husbandry and demand from industrial processing.

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