From 20 – 21 April, China held its annual Agricultural Outlook Conference (AOC) at the research campus of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) in Beijing. Under the leadership of the Market Early Warning Expert Committee and the Department of Market and Informatization of the Chinese Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs (MARA), the conference reviews annual agricultural production and consumption trends and presents projections on the development of agricultural supply, demand, prices, and trade flows for key commodities such as oilseeds, staple crops, cash crops, as well as animal products. The DCZ team attended the event on site upon invitation of our partner CAAS.
The opening ceremony focused on China’s food security strategy and the newly formulated policy vision to transform China into an agricultural superpower (nongye qiangguo 农业强国) . Keynote speaker Chen Xiwen, Chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress, highlighted that China’s efforts to become an agricultural superpower are closely related to the current instability and volatility of global commodity markets. The concept of “agricultural superpower” goes beyond agricultural modernization to include notions of self-sufficiency and domestic control over agricultural supply. Currently, only a handful of countries with modern agricultural sectors can be regarded as agricultural superpowers, Chen said, mentioning the United States, Canada, and Australia as examples. As a populous country, China aspires to join this group of agricultural superpowers in order to reduce the risks associated with an overreliance on global agricultural markets, his speech made clear.
Chen also reminded the audience that full self-sufficiency will not be possible given China’s scarce agricultural resources. While traditional notions of food security have focused on grain, a broader understanding of food security that takes into account diversified diets  reveals wide gaps in domestic supply, accounting for China’s booming imports. Adopting a “greater food” approach  in policymaking might help to address some of these supply gaps, Chen suggested.
Other measures to tackle food security concerns mentioned by speakers during the opening ceremony included:
- Protection of farmland against conversion into land used for construction or industry purposes
- Development of the seed industry to boost yields (see e.g., U.S. corn yields of 741 kg/ha compared to 419 kg/ha in China)
- Reduction of food loss and waste
- Improvements in monitoring and forecasting
Afternoon sessions on the first day continued debates on the issue of food security. Ke Bingsheng, former president of China Agricultural University, analyzed China’s role as the world’s largest soybean importer, accounting for more than 60% of global soybean imports. These imports are mostly related to feed security, rather than food security, Ke stressed, as most imports are used to feed domestic livestock herds. Ke also looked at other structural issues affecting China’s food security strategy, including low yields, high production costs affecting the competitiveness of China’s agricultural sector, as well as the small average farm sizes and a large remaining number of smallholder farmers.
In an analysis of China’s shifting food security pattern by Cheng Guoqing of Renmin University emphasized how a broader vision of food security beyond the supply of staple crops would see China’s self-sufficiency rate drop from 85.4% in 2010 to 63.6% in 2035, followed by a slight recovery to 68.4% in 2050. Imports should focus on land intensive crops, where the country faces a comparative disadvantage, Cheng emphasized. With respect to the animal husbandry sector, China should prioritize the import of feed over meat products to strengthen its own meat production sector and boost rural incomes. Cheng also touched on challenges related to exchange rates and global commodity prices, highlighting how China’s imports by value rose in 2022 despite a slight decline in import volumes .
Other sessions at the two-day event discussed projections for individual commodity groups, from grains to animal products, and provided an outlook on the development of agricultural science and technology as well as on efforts to use agricultural resources more efficiently and make agriculture and rural areas more environmentally sustainable.