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Monday, October 04, 2004

 

PRC's agriculture reform: feast or famine?

A revolution in farming practices is bringing wealth to the Chinese countryside which is also bringing the PRC into fierce competition with the world's biggest food producers, writes Andrew Browne in the Far Eastern Economic Review. He observes that across large swaths of coastal China, traditional plots for grain are giving way to orchards and greenhouses:

"Between now and 2020, some 300 million peasants are expected to migrate to urban areas, giving further impetus to farm consolidation. At the same time, China is embarked on a mammoth project to build a national highway network. Suddenly, once-remote farms can start growing perishable crops like lettuce and strawberries and rush them to markets at home and abroad. China now produces half the world's vegetables and melons--five times more than India and 11 times more than the U.S.--compared with just over one third in 1995. Meanwhile, output of broccoli, carrots and other vegetables and tomatoes has more than doubled. Over the same period, China's planted area for vegetables has jumped by 89% and for fruit by 16%, while the area sown with grain has dropped by 10%."
Browne also notes a grim future for PRC agrciculture as predicted by U.S. economist Lester Brown in a paper called China's Shrinking Grain Harvest, published in March:
"As fruit and vegetable production expands and farmland is lost to factories or parched through lack of irrigation, a ravenous China eats through its own grain eeserves and then starts devouring American granaries. Long lines of grain-bearing cargo ships sail across the Pacific to try to satisfy the appetite of China's billion-plus people. But the demand is overwhelming: Water is getting scarcer in the United States, too. Food prices soar all over the world."
According to Lester Brown, the PRC's China's grain harvest has fallen in four of the past five years. Rising world wheat prices, he says, may be just "the early tremors before the quake."

Perhaps even more threatening is the rising anger of many of the 300 million farmers being dispossessed of the land they use by Communist Party officials and government authorities. "It's corruption," declared Huang Jinchun, 36, whose family lost a third of an acre in Shishan and, he said in an interview (The Washington Post, 5 Oct), has yet to receive a penny's worth of compensation. "They just took our land and put the money into their pockets."

The demand for justice is being raised throughout the country:

The Construction Ministry said it received three times as many complaints in the first quarter of this year as in the same period last year. By the end of June, Deputy Minister Fu Wenjia told the Beijing News that 4,000 groups and more than 18,600 individuals had lodged petitions over allegedly illicit land transfers.

Farmers have also taken their complaints to the street. Hundreds lined up bicycles and rickshaws to block traffic in a Beijing suburb on Aug. 20, protesting the seizure of land by a state-owned development company building high-end villas for foreigners and wealthy Chinese seeking to escape the capital's downtown pollution.
Farmers pushed from their land on an island in the Pearl River in southern China have repeatedly clashed with Guangzhou police in recent months. The New York-based organization Human Rights in China reported Sept. 1 that 15 people were injured in a clash Aug. 1 at a factory in the Fuzhou suburb of Cangshan between police and protesters who said their property had been illegally seized.
"The situation of peasants being deprived of their land is very serious in China," said Li Baiguang, director of the Beijing Qimin Research Center. Li, who has studied land seizures in Fujian and other rural provinces, added, "If the interests of the peasants cannot be properly protected and the conflicts cannot be settled, Chinese society might suffer from turbulence."


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