China's shortage of arable land is very serious problem.
Excerpts from the article:
China is now gradually falling victim to the Japan syndrome, and that is clearly worrying. Perhaps the most alarming recent world agricultural event is the precipitous fall in China's grain production since 1998
. After an impressive climb from 90 million tonnes in 1950 to a peak of 392 million tonnes in 1998, China's grain harvest fell in four of the last five years, dropping to 322 million tonnes in 2003. For perspective, this decline of 70 million tonnes exceeds the entire grain harvest of Canada.China is losing grainland to expanding deserts and it is faced with spreading water shortages that are shrinking the grain harvest
. China's population of 1.3 billion is impressive, but even more impressive is the fact that 1.193 billion of them live in 46% of the country. The five sprawling provinces of Tibet, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Gansu, and Inner Mongolia, have only 81 million people - just 6% of the national total. Thus industrial and residential construction and the land paved for roads, highways, and parking lots will be concentrated in less than half the country, where 94% of the people live. People are crowded in this region simply because this is where arable land and water are
If China had Japan's automobile ownership rate of one car for every two people, it would have a fleet of 640 million, a forty-fold increase from the 16 million today. Such a fleet would require paving almost 13 million hectares of land -- again, most of it likely cropland. This figure is equal to two thirds of China's 21 million hectares of riceland -- land that produces 120 million tonnes of rice -- the country's principal staple food.
Several countries whose food requirements are dependent on imports are farming land in other countries. How do you see that working out?
This massive acquisition of land to grow food in other countries is one of the largest geopolitical experiments ever conducted. The land-buying countries are mostly those whose populations have outrun their own land and water resources. Among them are Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China, Kuwait, Libya, India, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. In contrast, countries selling or leasing their land are often low-income countries and, more often than not, those where chronic hunger and malnutrition are commonplace. Some depend on the World Food Programme for part of their food supply.
What about China?
For sheer size of investment, China stands out. The Chinese firm ZTE International has secured rights to 2.8 million hectares (6.9 million acres) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on which to produce palm oil, which can be used either for cooking or to produce biodiesel fuel--indicating that the competition between food and fuel is also showing up in land acquisitions. This compares with the 1.9 million hectares used by the Congo's 66 million people to produce corn, their food staple. Congo depends on a WFP lifeline. China is also negotiating for 2 million hectares in Zambia on which to produce jatropha, an oilseed-bearing perennial. Among the other countries in which China has acquired land or has plans to do so are Australia, Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, and Mozambique.
What are the problems with this trend?
These bilateral land acquisitions raise many questions. To begin with, these negotiations and the agreements they lead to lack transparency. Typically only a few high-ranking officials are involved and the terms are confidential. Not only are many stakeholders such as farmers not at the table when the agreements are negotiated, they do not even learn about the deals until after they have been signed. And since there is rarely idle productive land in the countries where the land is being purchased or leased, the agreements suggest that many local farmers will simply be displaced. Their land may be confiscated or it may be bought from them at a price over which they have little say. This helps explain the public hostility that often arises within host countries.
China, for example, signed an agreement with Philippines to lease over a million hectares of land on which to produce crops that would be shipped home. Once word leaked out, the public outcry forced the government to suspend the agreement. China is also running into on-the-ground opposition over its quest for 2 million hectares in Zambia. This new approach to achieving food security also raises questions about the effects on employment. At least two countries, China and South Korea, are planning in some cases to bring in their own farm workers.
The government of Pakistan, which is trying to sell or lease 400,000 hectares, is offering to provide a security force of 100,000 men to protect the land and assets of investors. Who will these security forces be protecting the invested assets from?
Another disturbing dimension of many land investments is that they are taking place in countries like Indonesia, Brazil, and Congo where expanding cropland typically means clearing tropical rainforests that sequester large quantities of carbon. This could measurably raise global carbon emissions, increasing the climate threat to world food security.