China aggressively acquires farmland throughout 


Country seeks to secure food security

By Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver Sun December 3, 2012

There are many challenging numbers confronting China's new leaders, but two are especially stark.
China has 20 per cent of the world's population, but only nine per cent of the world's farmland.
And even that imbalance in the amount of land available to produce food for an increasingly demanding population of 1.3 billion is getting worse by the day.
China loses close to a million hectares of arable land a year to urban development.
Between 1996 and 2006 nine million hectares of farmland were eaten up by China's expanding cities.
Providing food security for the country's people is seen by the Chinese Communist Party as one of its sacred duties, especially after up to 45 million people died of starvation in the late 1950s as a result of regime founder Mao Zedong's criminally ill-conceived Great Leap Forward.
There has been a huge push within China in the last three decades to improve agricultural productivity and to improve marginal land.
This effort continues with moves to amalgamate family small holdings into large farms warranting the use of agricultural machinery instead of peasants' sweat.
Between now and 2020, China's own agricultural output is expected to grow by 26 per cent.
But this is not enough, especially as China's diet is changing as it grows more wealthy.
Chinese are no longer satisfied with a diet of rice and vegetables. They want meat and other previously unknown foodstuffs such as dairy products that require more investment and land.
So Chinese state-owned and private agricultural companies are looking abroad to countries with available arable land to feed their teeming millions.
But as with the Beijing's government's approach to assuring supplies of energy and raw materials for processing, there is reluctance to depend on the global marketplace to meet the country's needs.
Chinese officials and companies like to own resources and as they contemplate how to provide food security for their country their approach is no different.
China has become one of the largest buyers of agricultural land worldwide, spending billions of dollars a year to snap up millions of hectares in North and South America, Central Asia, Africa and Australia and New Zealand.
In many countries the arrival of Chinese state-owned agribusiness, such as the Beidahuang Group, the country's largest, is greeted with as much suspicion as the purchase of mineral and energy resources by Chinese companies.
Last week in Australia there was public outcry after it was announced that Beidahuang intends to acquire 100,000 hectares of land in the state of Western Australia to grow grain for direct export to China.

In the past month Beidahuang and its subsidiaries have purchased over 60,000 hectares in the region, including the port of Albany. The company is reported to be budgeting about $4 billion for land acquisition.
Beidahuang earlier this month announced plans worth $1.5 billion to develop farms and expand a port in southern Argentina.
Rio Negro province in the arid Patagonia steppe is giving Beidahuang a 20-year lease on 300,000 hectares of largely unused land.
The company plans to produce wine, corn, soybeans and vegetables which will be shipped directly to China from the expanded port at San Antonio.
As in Australia, there is public suspicion in Argentina about the long-term benefits and effects of these large land acquisitions by China.
Argentina, along with many other Latin American countries, is planning to enact legislation limiting foreign land acquisitions.
The welcome for Chinese agribusiness companies has been just as cool in Central Asia.
The public uproar in Kazakhstan over reports a year ago that the president had signed a deal giving Chinese farmers one million hectares of land on a 99-year lease was deafening. The agriculture minister was forced to make a public pledge that "China would not get an inch of Kazakh land, whether through ownership or long-term lease."

The public response was just as negative in Tajikistan early last year when it was announced that the parliament had ceded to China 110,000 hectares of land, about one per cent of the country's total land area.
But the government in Dushanbe held its ground and soon afterward announced the leasing of a further 2,000 hectares to a Chinese company that planned to bring in 1,500 Chinese farm workers to grow cotton and rice.