Is panic buying a pointer towards China’s food security threat?

China needs to feed its 1.4 billion people, around one fifth of the world’s population.

From the last week or so, consistent reports about panic buying of food items by people are coming in from China.

Long serpentine lines, people pushing and battling for crucial food items at shops. These are the sights of panic shopping that are sweeping China, which is prepared for a possible new COVID-19 wave as well as a protracted winter season.

The deal with China’s panic buying

On November 1, 2021, China’s Ministry of Commerce issued a notification instructing local authorities to stabilize food security and prices, including vegetables, meat, and cooking oil, in preparation for the impending winter months.

According to the ministry, families are advised to preserve a certain quantity of everyday requirements to fulfil the demands of daily living and emergencies.

This generated a frenzy of internet debate, with some users thinking that the demand to store food was in response to the possibility of a conflict with Taiwan.

The Ministry of Commerce replied by assuring the public that food supplies would not be jeopardized.

This didn’t stop some customers from loading up on cabbage, rice, and flour, and the instructions also pushed local edible oil futures and Malaysian palm oil prices higher.

Such stockpiling notices usual but latest one has a rare wording

At first observation, the letter appears to be quite similar to previous Chinese government orders emphasizing the need of bolstering supply.

However, the directive on Monday has piqued the interest of ordinary citizens in a manner that few other official directives have. This appears to be due to the fact that it contains unusual wording on the need for local governments to urge households to stockpile daily needs.

Even if the notification wasn’t meant for the typical households to see, it has been interpreted as a personal warning by many on the internet.

China’s food security is ‘hugely’ important

China’s requires food for its 1.4 billion people, which account for almost one fifth of the world’s population.

Food security has become an increasingly important political concern for President Xi’s new growth strategy, depending mainly on domestic consumption to offset foreign risks in the post-Coronavirus world.

Besides, the food security in the country is a sensitive matter, since the older generations still bear the scars of China’s Great Famine, which ravaged the country from 1958 to 1962.

It was sparked by former President Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, a radical effort that attempted to transform China into a communist utopia through fast industrialization and collectivization, but instead resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people.

China making efforts for enhancing its food security

In 1990, China chose to develop national grain stockpiles, and has since developed a system for coordinating central state reserves and local reserves, as well as augmenting government and business inventories.

In 2015, the country implemented an accountability structure and thorough evaluation criteria that mandates that all provincial governors accept full responsibility for local food security.

By 2025, the government hopes to have 71.67 million hectares of high-standard farming and 80 million hectares by 2030, all of which will be utilized to boost agricultural yields per acre on a massive scale through mechanized farming.

In the 14th Five-Year Plan, which was unveiled in March, a strategic and compulsory initiative for grain output target was set for the first time.

Also, President Xi encouraged people not to waste food in August 2020, and the ‘request’ was quickly turned into a national campaign.

China’s food imports further strengthening food security

According to a government white paper published in October 2019, ‘moderate imports’ are part of China’s official food security plan.

China is able to secure adequate acreage for self-sufficiency in the production of rice and wheat, two main staple crops, at the cost of being dependent on foreign soybeans.

Being a net exporter of rice, the country has already surpassed the United States as the world’s greatest food importer, with grain imports being over 100 million tons since 2014.

Feature Image: AFP/Getty Images

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