Commentary RESEARCH

Acquired taste

Aria

2024-01-17 12:00

HUANG JIKUN
China Daily

Over the past four decades, governmental policies and technological innovation have allowed the Chinese people to have enough to eat, addressing the food shortage problem lasting for several thousand years and greatly improving the diets of urban and rural residents. The Chinese people are shifting from having enough to eat to eating well and seeking more nutritious and healthier diets.

In the past, however, the supply of major agricultural products such as grains was often ensured at the expense of land and water resources as well as the ecological environment in agricultural areas. As a result, the current agricultural production system is facing mounting challenges. It is imperative to develop fundamental solutions to maintain and improve the productivity of arable land. In the meantime, as Chinese people's income grows, their demands for diverse, safe, nutritious and healthy food will continue to improve, which has important implications for China's agri-food supply system.

The transformation of food systems to provide people with adequate, nutritious and healthy food while promoting the harmonious coexistence between people and nature is a core issue of global concern. People in China and other parts of the world are shifting from subsistence eating to eating well, seeking more nutritious and healthier diets and eating in a more environmentally friendly manner. But there are still many people in developing countries struggling to overcome the problems of famine and poverty for whom food security is still a distant dream.

In the medium- to high-income countries, the dual goals of transformation are easy to achieve if they have rich agricultural resources such as cultivated land and water. Countries with small per capita arable land, dense populations and small territory, such as Singapore, have to count on international trade to achieve the dual goals. Japan and the Republic of Korea also largely rely on international trade in this regard. While large and populous countries with a small amount of per capita arable land, such as China and India, will find it hard to achieve the goals of transforming food systems through cultivated land production system and can't highly depend on international markets.

While China is a large population country with relatively little cultivated land, it has a vast territory and diverse food customs. But as an innovative country, it is capable of achieving the dual goals of food system transformation with a greater food approach.

Apart from the cultivated land in agricultural regions, China also has larger grasslands, forestlands, rivers, lakes and seas that can also produce various foods across the country. Due to diverse food customs in China, food not from cultivated land can help meet people's demands for a diverse, nutritious and healthy diet. China has ensured absolute security of food and grain (rice and wheat) and stabilized its food supply chains, with supplies mainly from domestic output supplemented by international trade. China's measures have had positive impacts on global food security and global green development. While providing its people with more adequate, nutritious and healthy food, it has firmly promoted and actively implemented the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

To shift from merely ensuring food security to food sustainability, supporting policies are needed. However, it remains a challenge for China, with its current policy systems centering on farmland in agricultural areas. Launching the greater food approach is an effective way to achieve transformation of the food system in China. It aims at building a diverse food supply system that incorporates all five major food production systems — agricultural areas, grasslands, forestlands, rivers, lakes and oceans — as well as microorganisms and artificial food. Studies show that rural economic restructuring, including the transformation of the food system, must be accompanied by corresponding reform and innovation of systems, policies and investment in each phase. However, the country's agricultural policies have been formulated primarily for farmland in agricultural regions, and they are inadequate to support the development of food production systems in the other production systems under the greater food approach, and are unsuitable for the transformation and development of food production systems such as grasslands, forestlands, rivers, lakes and oceans, microorganisms and artificial food. In the transformation of China's food system into a new stage with the greater food approach, China has to introduce innovative institutions, policies and investment systems in line with each of the diverse food supply systems.

The transformation of the food systems will take time, and the transformation based on the greater food approach must be advanced in a steady manner, for which a sound development road map needs to be formulated. While providing more adequate, nutritious and healthy food for its people, China should keep promoting sustainable development, and balance development and environmental protection.

Since the five major food production systems are differentiated from each other, China also needs to develop a road map and identify strategic priorities in line with the development of each system. Agricultural areas should grow grains and cash crops, raise livestock, and seek to develop facility agriculture in line with local conditions. Pastoral areas should seek to improve grasslands, strike to balance the outputs of grass and livestock production, support the integration of livestock production between agricultural areas and pastoral areas, and promote artificial grass planting. Forestlands should develop non-timber forest-based food economy in a sustainable way. Rivers and lakes suitable for fishing should develop sustainable fisheries, and offshore areas should promote aquatic farming and develop offshore fisheries in a sustainable manner. Diverse microorganisms and artificial food also remain to be developed.

Innovation in biological, digital, equipment and green ecological technologies will determine the transformation of the food systems by the greater food approach, for which innovative institutions, policies and investment should be introduced to drive progress.

The author is director of the New Rural Development Institute and honorary director of the China Center for Agricultural Policy at Peking University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

 


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