While much of the west looks toward New Years as a catalyst for yet another resolution to exercise and lose weight, China seems to be thinking in the opposite direction. Rather than a luxury of excesses in the food and agricultural sectors, China is contemplating the prospects of potentially tighter belts in coming years. Not a comfortable thought if you are one of the Mighty Helmsman’s successors responsible for tranquility among your almost 2 billion citizens.
The China Academy of Agricultural Sciences, those wild and crazy guys and gals who stare at plants rather than people, has rightly rung the alarm bell, again, noting that grain production is likely to be a 大问题 (da wenti – big problem) over the next 20 years. With concerns about how much farther plant yields can be extended, water availability and changes in climatic patterns, those sober plant watchers worry that China could experience a decline of up to 35-40% in grain production by 2100. Not such a good picture given (1) population growth, (2) urbanization and (3) trends toward higher caloric intake as incomes rise. They base their concerns on the past 20 years of data and extrapolate forward with forecasts on genetically induced yield improvements and estimated drought trends. With a current surplus (production greater than consumption) of 5%, and with drought having trimmed outputs by 4%-8% of total output, there is not a lot of room for a 大问题.
China will likely invest heavily in plant genomics and related agro-sciences. So, too, with fertilizers to boost yields. I suspect China will be the scene for some interesting water purification and reuse technologies as well.