Inquiry explores food security issues in China

June 2, 2015

Second Murdoch Commission members Professor John Edwards, Dr Chris Vas and Cat Bevan-Jones inspecting seedlings at Hong Sha, a village development project run by the Chinese government in Sichuan Province.Members of Murdoch’s independent inquiry into food security learnt how China is tackling food security issues on a recent visit to Beijing and the Sichuan Province.

Members of the Second Murdoch Commission, entitled Food Security, Trade and Partnerships: Western Australia in regional food systems, met with key stakeholders from government, academia and industry, gaining insight into the significant progress China has made in lifting its people out of poverty and hunger.

The group was also made aware of the challenges China faces in adequately feeding its population in the face of growing social, economic and environmental factors of concern such as its ageing population, rising labour costs and soil and water degradation.

During their four day visit, the Commission visited the New Hope Dairy Farm and processing facilities in Hongya County, Sichuan Province, providing them with a practical insight into China’s new strategy of professionalising agriculture.

“Despite good progress over the past 30 years, there are still 150 million people living below the poverty line in China,” said Commission Co-Chair Professor John Edwards.

“The difficulty is that the majority of these food insecure people live in the more remote villages and counties of rural provinces in China, making it difficult to target the problem effectively for a range of reasons.”

The Commission also learned that while China is relatively food secure due to a steady increase in food production over recent years coupled with importing specific types of food, there will be significant challenges to maintaining current food security levels in the near future due to its increasing population, decreasing arable land and growing environmental challenges.

Dr Chris Vas, Commission Director said: “We heard quite a different story about food security in China than we did in India, where the focus was on food access.

“In China, we learned that food insecurity was more localised and seasonal, and that self-sufficiency in rice and wheat are key concerns. Nutrition, calorie intake and balanced diets are also food security priorities for China, as well as international cooperation on food-related issues.”

Commission coordinator Cat Bevan-Jones said she was amazed by how much of the land in Sichuan Province was dedicated to cultivation.

“There were the cultivated rice paddies and fields of crops that you would expect in provincial areas, but people were also planting crops in the median strips of the national highways, along verges right up to the roads, and in other quite inaccessible areas where there was available space,” she said.

Commissioners also gained insight into China’s growing concerns about the increased prevalence of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which are associated with being overweight and obese.

The commission members were hosted by Professor Zhang Lubiao, Deputy Director General of the Department of International Cooperation at the Ministry of Agriculture, and by Professor Edwards, who is based in China as coordinator of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases.

Consultation highlights included meeting with Professor Jikun Huang, China’s leading food policy expert and Director of the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy at the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Dr Kevin Chen, China Program Leader for the International Food Policy Research Institute; and a round table with young researchers from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

The Commission also met with Australians based in China, and learned about the opportunities for Australia and Western Australia to work with Chinese partners to ensure steady, safe supply chains for premium agricultural products.

The Second Murdoch Commission was launched in Perth last October at the first of five regional Asian meeting rounds. Commission members have already visited India and are due to travel to Vietnam in June and Indonesia in July.

Second Murdoch Commission Background:

  • The Commission will run until October 2015 and will produce, by the end of the year, an independent, evidence-based analysis report of key food security challenges in the region, with policy recommendations to address these challenges.
  • Key Commission themes include regional and global food security systems, farm production and food supply chains, trade and investment, agricultural research and development, and WA’s role in regional food systems.
  • Membership of the Commission comprises 12 leading figures in the food security space with expertise in agriculture, economics, policy, government and business from Singapore, China, Vietnam, Japan, India and Australia.

The Commission combines Murdoch University’s research strengths with the international expertise of its Commissioners and is a practical demonstration of the University’s commitment to apply scholarly research to significant real-world problems.

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