“North China faces prolonged drought,” reads today’s headline on the Chinese English language website Xinhua News. Drought has plagued eastern China’s Shandong Province since October – the worst it has experienced in the past six decades. The province, a key wheat producing region, has had only 12 millimeters of rain since the end of September, an 85% decline from average levels.
China’s drought will further worsen the spike in food prices currently being felt worldwide. Diminishing agricultural yields and China’s growing allocation of grain to meet the demands of its ever-increasing livestock population are inflating food prices in China and around the world. Since 2009, China’s price of wheat has increased 9%, rice by 13%, chicken by 17%, pork by 13%, and eggs by 30%.
According to UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, China’s ability to feed itself is jeopardized by declining soil quality – a result of excessive fossil fuel-based fertilizer use, pollution, and drought. At present, 37% of China’s land is considered degraded, and the country has lost 8.2 million hectares of arable land since 1997, as a result of growing urbanization, natural disasters and re-forestation.
In response to this drought, the Chinese government is intensifying irrigation, allocating 700 million yuan to build 845 new wells and expand pipeline in the region. But with water tables rapidly falling due to irrigation overdraws and receding glaciers, China’s availability of fresh water is in short supply. Should China’and other countries around the world’continue to pursue water-intensive industrial agricultural, drought, irrigation shortages, and soaring food prices will undoubtedly become hallmarks of our shared food future.
Photo courtesy of B. Cheng