Xi Jinping targets ‘shocking’ food waste as China battles floods and pandemic supply problems

William Zheng
·4-min read

China’s president has called on the country to stop wasting food, with floods affecting the country’s traditional rice production areas and the coronavirus pandemic disrupting food supply chains.

Experts said curbing food waste will help improve food security and strengthen the country’s ability to cope with declines in imports.

Since early June, torrential rains have ravaged large tracts of farmland in southern China, the country’s major rice growing centres.

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According to state news agency Xinhua, President Xi Jinping said China’s food waste problem was “shocking and distressing” and despite several years of bumper harvests the country needed to “maintain a sense of crisis about food security, especially amid the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

He also stressed the need to step up oversight in the area and establish a long-term mechanism to stop food waste.

In addition, he called for betterpublic awareness and the promotion of a social environment where “waste is shameful and thriftiness is applaudable”.

The Xinhua report, published on Tuesday, also underlined public resentment of cadres who indulged in such wasteful habits.

Since last year, Xi and other top leaders have repeatedly stressed the importance of food security and assured the public that the nation is producing enough food to feed its 1.4 billion people.

According to a joint report released by the WWF and Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2018, restaurants and canteens in China wasted an estimated 18 million tonnes of food a year – about 3 per cent of the country’s total food production. The report said the waste was enough to feed up to 50 million people.

Zhang Hongzhou, a research fellow with Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), said that the latest call by Xi represented another step by Beijing to improve China’s food security, and to bolster its “food power” amid a prolonged struggle with the United States.

“Besides increasing investment in agricultural projects overseas, diversifying imports, and building up China’s agricultural business around the world, reducing food waste also means less reliance on imports and enhancing China’s ‘food power’,” Zhang said.

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He said he was not too concerned about the floods and other natural disasters’ impact on China’s food supply, especially grain production.

“The flooding has caused lots of damage for sure, [but] compared with previous years the affected area this year is not substantially higher,” he said.

But he said low prices were the main reason discouraging farmers from planting more grain.

“The nation has kicked in subsidies for grain farmers but grain producers are still making less money than those who grow more expensive products. China will have to resolve this issue to safeguard its food production,” Zhang said.

Hu Xingdou, an independent economist based in Beijing, said China needed to prepare for a worst-case scenario in its struggle with the US and to achieve full self-reliance in food production.

“The official data suggests that China imports about 20 per cent of its food supply, but some academics estimated the actual volume may be as high as 30 per cent,” Hu said.

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