China Wants People’s Rice Bowls Filled With Locally Grown Grain

China stressed the importance of keeping the people’s “rice bowl” filled with domestically grown grain at a time when available farmland is shrinking, the weather’s turning more extreme and imports are cheaper.

“If you have enough grain, you don’t need to panic,” Agriculture Minister Han Changfu wrote in an opinion piece in the People’s Daily on Friday. “Chinese people’s rice bowls must always be held firmly in our own hands, and should be full mainly of Chinese grain.”

The country buys hefty amounts of soybeans, corn, cotton and pork from the U.S., and the comments come as tensions escalate with Washington over everything from cyber security to Hong Kong. President Donald Trump has just signed executive orders prohibiting American residents from doing business with the Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat apps beginning 45 days from now.

China, the biggest consumer of agricultural commodities, should always be self-sufficient in rice and wheat, as well as other cereals, while maintaining an “appropriate volume” of imports, Han said. The country bought a record volume of meat last month, and increased soybean imports to the second highest ever in a bid to secure supplies.

The minister’s opinion piece appears about a week before a review of the phase-one trade deal with the U.S. While China has committed to honoring the agreement, purchases of farm products during the first half of the year were only about 20% of the 2020 target.

Beijing has pledged to take the most stringent measures to prevent farmland from declining and improve efficiency as it faces challenges from growing shortages of water and labor. Young farmers are increasingly moving to the cities from rural areas. The changing climate has also brought extreme weather, such as flooding, putting years of bumper harvests at risk.

The government plans to enhance seed varieties for better yields, and expand the use of machines in grain production, Han said. Among various measures, China has already given safety approval for domestically developed genetically modified corn, for the first time in 10 years, in a bid to boost food security.