The food we eatDrought in China threatens wheat crop and send global prices soaring

Published 16 February 2011

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that a severe drought was threatening China’s wheat crop and could result in shortages of drinking water; analysts fear that wheat prices could soar even higher if China were to begin importing large quantities of food to feed more than a billion hungry mouths; wheat prices are already at record highs and have sparked food related protests around the world; surging prices are partially responsible for Egypt and Tunisia’s recent mass uprisings; China’s Shandong province, a major agricultural region, has only received fifteen percent of its normal rain levels; in dire terms Chinese state media reported that “land is drying out, and the crops are dying”

China's worst drought in 50 years threatens food supply // Source: telegraph.co.uk

Last week the UN Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO) warned that a severe drought was threatening China’s wheat crop and could result in shortages of drinking water.

The organization said that 12.75 million acres of the 35 million acres of wheat fields in China have been hit by the drought and that 2.57 million people and 2.79 head of livestock were facing drinking water shortages. Chinese media confirmed the UN’s warning when it reported that the country’s main agricultural areas were experiencing their worst drought in sixty years.

The state run news outlet, Xinhua reported that “minimal rainfall or snow this winter has crippled China’s major agricultural regions, leaving many of them parched. Crop production has fallen sharply, as the worst drought in six decades, shows no sign of letting up.”

In dire terms it stated, “Land is drying out, and the crops are dying.”

Analysts fear that record wheat prices could soar even higher if China were to begin importing large quantities of food to feed more than a billion hungry mouths.

Robert S. Zeigler, the director general of the International Rice Research Institute says, “China’s grain situation is critical to the rest of the world — if they are forced to go out on the market to procure adequate supplies for their population, it could send huge shock waves through the world’s grain markets.”

Wheat prices are already at record highs and have sparked food related protests around the world. Surging prices for food are partially responsible for Egypt and Tunisia’s recent mass uprisings.

With its massive foreign exchange reserves of $2.85 trillion, China is in a position to purchase as much food as it needs.

“They can buy whatever they need to buy, and they can outbid anyone,” Zeigler said.

Ziegler added that China has been mostly self-sufficient, producing its own grain for decades, and this helped prevent grain prices from rising even higher when prices peaked three years ago.

Chinese state media reported that the Shandong province, a major agricultural region, has only received fifteen percent of its normal rain levels.

The drought has even hit areas that usually have humid and rainy climates, like the northern parts of the Jiangsu province which has seen sharp declines in annual rainfall levels.

According to KisanGunjal, the FAO food emergency officer responsible for Asia, the wheat crop could be saved if rain came soon and temperatures began to warm. He cautioned, though, that extreme cold could have “devastating effects.”

Last Tuesday Chinese weather services forecasted that frost would hit Shandong province for the next nine nights and that temperatures would fall to as low as twenty-one degrees Fahrenheit. It also predicted little chance of rain in the following ten days.

Chinese president Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao recently made two separate tours of the areas hit hardest by the drought and called for “all-out efforts” to address the water shortages.

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