China's projected cereals deficits in a world context

Lester Brown's recent writings about trends in China's food consumption, production and rapidly rising import requirements and his predictions that the world is running out of potential to increase production of cereals received wide publicity in the press. They increased awareness of the problem among the public, which was stimulated by recent declines in world cereals production per capita, falling stocks and sharp rises in world market prices. This paper is an attempt on my part to extract a coherent picture of what Brown says about China and the world and examine it in the light of what we know about this country and of possible developments in the world as a whole. I make the following conclusions. I. Brown misjudges China's potential to maintain and indeed increase cereals production because he misinterprets the data on land losses (he treats diversion of land from cereals to, mainly, other crops and aquaculture as if such land were lost to food production), he ignores new data which indicate that China has more agricultural land than reported in official statistics and his projected numbers do not account for responses on the part of producers, consumers and government policy to an increasing scarcity of products and rising prices. 2. The analogies he draws with the experiences of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are inappropriate. 3. China will probably be a growing net importer of cereals but at levels much below those projected by Brown. 4. World production of cereals may indeed grow at a lower rate than in the long-term past (but not as low as that projected by Brown) which could be sufficient to accommodate China's growing import requirements and the probable ones of other countries. 5. The world food problem is one of persistence of very low food consumption levels and high incidence of undernutrition in many developing countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The persistence of severe food insecurity problems reflects not so much constraints in increasing food production in the world as whole but development failures (often agricultural development failures) and the persistence of poverty in certain countries.


Issue Date:
1996-09
Publication Type:
Journal Article
PURL Identifier:
http://purl.umn.edu/173993
Published in:
Agricultural Economics: The Journal of the International Association of Agricultural Economists, Volume 15, Issue 1
Page range:
1-16
Total Pages:
16




 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-27

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