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China faces diluted early-season rice harvest as floods drench crops in farming hubs

  • Rainfall in China’s hubs for early-season rice threatens to reduce the year’s grain output, presenting a challenge the country’s efforts to maintain food security

Recent floods in China are threatening the country’s harvest of early-season rice, a dietary staple and a major component of Beijing’s campaign to ensure food security. Photo: Weibo

China is set to see a drop in its early-season rice harvest after recent bouts of extreme rainfall in major production areas, putting pressure on annual output at a time when Beijing is fighting to strengthen its food security.

The crop – to be gathered later this month and estimated to account for 13 per cent of China’s total rice production – is sprouting prematurely in the southern and eastern areas of the country after heavy rains that have persisted since mid-June, according to local farmers and agriculture analysts.

A highly likely decrease in output underscores the growing challenge presented by climate change as China endeavours to ensure food self-sufficiency, an issue of strategic significance for the country’s 1.4 billion people as geopolitical uncertainties accumulate.

“It’s unusual to see so much rain in this season, and rice crops located in low-lying areas have been flooded, so a reduction in output this year is almost certain,” said Ding Yong, a farmer from Xiangyin county in Hunan province – one of the four hub areas where China’s “early rice” is grown.

Streets and farmland were also flooded in Pingjiang, a county near Xiangyin, as the county recorded its highest water levels since 1954 after torrential rains battered the area consistently since June 18, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

In Jiangxi – another producing hub – continuous high temperatures, humidity and strong rainfalls have led to premature germination in some of the rice, a harmful condition that can occur after the grain has ripened and before it can be harvested, according to a research note from agricultural portal Cngrain on Tuesday.

“Production of early-season rice is set to drop due to prolonged wet weather, and some areas are seeing pre-harvest sprouting, leading to a decrease in both quality and yield,” it said. Early germination renders rice unsuitable for human consumption, but the crop is still viable as animal feed.

Premier Li Qiang observed Jiangxi’s flood control efforts on Monday and Tuesday, noting “there have been frequent abnormal weather events this year” and urging local officials to prepare their responses early.

As extreme weather affects agricultural production across the world, preventing natural disasters and reducing their impact has been named a top priority for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs in its annual work plan.

Extreme rainfall, caused by a warmer climate, is projected to reduce China’s rice yield by 8 per cent by the end of the century, according to a study by a group of Chinese researchers published in the academic journal Nature Food in May of last year.

According to official statistics, China has produced over 28 million tonnes of early-season rice on an annual basis since 2021, accounting for over 13 per cent of total output and 4 per cent of total grain production.

The country’s cumulative annual grain output has been on the rise since 2018, with a record high of 695.4 million tonnes registered last year.

The government has vowed to keep yearly production above 650 million tonnes, but several factors threaten to confound that goal, such as the loss of arable land after urbanisation and poor enthusiasm for growing food crops among farming populations thanks to low returns.

https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3269035/china-faces-diluted-early-season-rice-harvest-floods-drench-crops-farming-hubs QR Code

Published Date: July 3, 2024

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