Feeding China

Rebecca Nadin and Maizura Ismail, INTASAVE Asia-Pacific and Sarah Opitz-Stapleton, INTASAVE-CARIBSAVE Group.

Climate change is likely to impact food security at multiple dimensions of the global, national and local food chains. Food production, processing, distribution, purchasing, consumption and disposal are vulnerable in an uncertain climate. At the same time, all stages of the food chain contribute towards global warming. Policies and actions are needed to synergise adaptation and mitigation in food chains.

In China, climate change is projected to have largely negative effects on farming and presents real risks for China’s ability to feed its population. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, intense and varied throughout the country. Droughts are covering increasing expanses of Northern China and exacerbating rates of desertification and soil loss; by contrast, in southern and south-western areas, extreme precipitation events have contributed to more intense floods, mudslides and significant crop losses. These shifts, combined with significant warming across most of China in recent decades, have generated a number of impacts on crops and cropping patterns.

The main impacts posed by these changes are a possible decline in crop yield, as well as increased risk of crop loss from extreme weather events, and a growth in pests, plant diseases and weeds. Take rice for example. It is estimated that 35 per cent of the world’s rice is grown in China; rice crops cover a quarter of all the country’s cultivated land. However, if no adaptation measures are taken, the country’s total rice output may see strong declines by 2050, of greater than 40 per cent.

How China adapts to these shifts will have broad impacts – not only on the livelihoods and business ventures of farmers, but also far beyond China’s borders in terms of its influence on regional and global agricultural markets and international water negotiations. To date, China is not a net importer of grain. Any significant reductions in China’s grain yields will have important implications for global food prices and commodity markets, as well as regional food security.

The solutions to building resilience and reducing emissions in food production do not just rest with a Paris treaty at COP but closer to home. Climate change is not the only stressor on China’s agriculture. Rather, it enhances the existing issues already in play. Socio-economic, environmental and political change processes – a growing population; increasing demand for meat, dairy and wheat; pollution; urbanisation – all act synergistically with climate change to negatively impact agriculture.

The challenges are significant. Building agricultural resilience to climate change and other socioeconomic shocks and shifts will require a range of policies, as well as shifts in cropping practices and natural resource management, better coordination between policy making and implementing bodies, and a stronger integration of science and policy. Behavioural and socio-economic shifts on a national and local level are just as key to adapting to the new challenges facing China’s sector.

The government of China has been undertaking reforms in a few key areas. Since the 1970s, it has been investing in agricultural research and productivity-enhancing techniques and technologies, such as high-yield seeds and agricultural equipment. These activities have been key drivers in increasing agricultural yields, as well as large-scale investments to improve water efficiency and limit arable land conversion. Important steps are also being taken to integrate and coordinate water resource management with agricultural policy.

Tackling climate-related food insecurity also requires reframing that to link adaptation and mitigation, and look at areas of synergy between the two distinctions. Adaptation and mitigation measures within the food systems can reduce climate risk and increase resilience. China is prepared to share its knowledge and experience in various sustainable agricultural management practices through the growing South-South Cooperation initiatives. The adaptation choices and decisions China makes will also bring valuable insights to climate change adaptation in other parts of the world.


The above was adapted for use in Outreach magazine from ‘Climate Risk and Resilience in China’, a detailed study in how China has been working to understand and respond to climatic risk. For more information, see: http://www.intasave.org/Who-We-Are_News-&-Events_Supporting-Chinas-Adaptation.html


Rebecca Nadin is Regional Director of INTASAVE Asia-Pacific. Sarah Opitz-Stapleton is a Senior Scientist and Head of Climate Resilience with the INTASAVE-CARIBSAVE Group. Maizura Ismail is a Research and Sustainable Business Development Manager at INTASAVE Asia-Pacific.