Can China’s new farm strategies boost food and nutrition security?

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

China must focus on modernising its agriculture, IFPRI has warned
China must focus on modernising its agriculture, IFPRI has warned

Related tags Food Malnutrition Obesity

China will only manage to feed itself if its policymakers continue to shift their ideals from self sufficiency towards a heavier reliance on international trade and stronger property rights for farmers, the International Food Policy Research Institute has warned.

In its latest global policy report, the IFPRI said that while the country might now be ensconced in the world psyche as a rising economic powerhouse, its poor still outnumber the entire population of Germany, with many citizens remaining undernourished.

Rapid changes are taking place in China that increase the need for policies that will safeguard the most vulnerable and ensure food security for all​,” said Shenggen Fan, director general of the IFPRI. 

China has an opportunity to focus its attention on international trade and to emulate the smallholder agriculture-led strategies for reducing hunger that have been successful elsewhere​.” 

Host country seizing on Beijing declaration

Food security is one of a number of Chinese issues discussed in the 2014-2015 Global Food Policy Report​, the IFPRI’s authoritative annual examination of major food, agriculture and nutrition developments around the globe.

The Washington-based research institute, which seeks to find sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty, also assessed that last year’s Beijing Declaration could promise greater food security and safety for China in the wake of several tainted food scandals. 

China was one of 50 signatories from developing and developed nations of a document that urged all countries to base their food safety measures on sound scientific evidence and risk analysis.

Since then, the government has begun to implement reforms of agriculture and social protection policies aimed at providing safety nets for the most vulnerable. 

And it has pledged to reduce the prevalence of child stunting—a result of malnutrition—by more than two-thirds in two to three decades. 

Still haunted by ‘triple burden of malnutrition’

The IFPRI used this year’s report to call on China to continue developing new ways to increase food production, as it is doing with aquaculture. Indeed, half of the projected increase in total fish production expected to occur in China. 

However, the paper criticised China’s “triple burden of malnutrition​”. Hidden hunger, overweight and obesity, it said, are all on the rise to a point that the numbers today are up to twice those of 1991 as the country’s middle class grows and consumer preferences change. 

With manufacturing and services beginning to replace agriculture as economic drivers, China must create agriculture and nutrition policies that account for this economic shift and promote food security, the IFPRI concluded. 

As a middle income country with great potential, China’s role in reducing global hunger and undernutrition is critical​,” Fan said. 

This will require greater cooperation with Africa, continued agricultural technology transfer, and an increase in participation in global institution​.” 

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