Chinese officials have announced plans to increase production of grain products, with the country forecast to have the world’s largest grain crop by the end of the decade.
The government said on Tuesday that the increase in output would come on top of the 7 billion yuan (US$7.2 billion) allocated to agricultural production in 2016.
The increase was welcomed by grain producers, who had previously been concerned that China’s rapid growth would cause them to miss out on crucial exports to countries like Japan, the US and Australia.
But there are concerns that China is using the increase to keep prices low, to gain political advantage and to further boost domestic consumption, with a focus on pork.
The announcement came after a major rice export, from the Guangdong province, was delayed amid the country’s recent political turmoil.
Agriculture ministry spokesman Wang Qiyun said the country would make the biggest contribution to grain production by 2020.
The ministry said the extra grain would be produced at the national wheat and rice factories, as well as at the wheat and barley plants.
“It will be used to support the agriculture sector’s capacity for growing grains, especially wheat and maize,” Wang said.
“China will contribute to world food security through increased grain production and increase in world grain consumption, and also through improving the efficiency of the countrys agriculture system.”
He said China would provide assistance to the US-based international organisation World Food Programme and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as well.
Wang added that China would make a further contribution to the FAO’s project to reduce carbon emissions.
He also said the ministry would expand its cooperation with US agribusiness companies, and that it would launch a national programme to increase exports of wheat and corn.
World Food said the announcement was “encouraging” and said it was “hopeful that China will continue to boost its agricultural production”.
But it said China was not on track to meet its 2020 targets.
“We expect China to do much better than expected,” said Steve Schilling, chief economist at the Washington-based think tank World Resources Institute.
“Its still a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation.
It’s going to take a long time for the country to catch up with its targets, but it will be a very good outcome for grain producers in the short term.”
The US and China’s other major trading partners, the EU and Japan, have also expressed concerns about China’s plans to boost production.
The United States imports about 75% of its grain, while Japan consumes just 15% of the grain, and US imports of corn are expected to grow in coming years.
But some experts said China’s plan was unlikely to do enough to keep up with the growing demand for its food, especially as China’s population ages.
China’s grain production has doubled in the last decade, as it has become more urbanised and urbanisation has become increasingly prevalent.
In the last two years, the country has grown from a population of 5.2 million to over 8.6 million, according to official statistics.
A study by the US government’s National Bureau of Economic Research in 2016 said the increase was due largely to the introduction of a range of government-backed schemes, including the Rural Development Development Law, the Agricultural Development Law and the Rural Employment Promotion Law.
However, the report warned that it was difficult to forecast how long the trend would continue.
“The number of rice-producing households is not changing significantly and there are still a number of rural households that still do not have rice,” said the report’s co-author, James Kallman.
“So we don’t have a good measure of how fast the rice market will recover from the impact of the new legislation.”
China is not the only country that is planning to boost food production.
Australia’s Agriculture Minister, Greg Hunt, has said the government would increase production by 20% in 2018, and would make up the shortfall with grain imports.
The UK has also promised to boost output by 20%.