Fact Box

Level: 14.079

Tokens: 895

Types: 413

TTR: 0.461

Alimentary education


China's strategies for achieving sustainable food security have global lessons

It has become an international consensus that the existing global food system needs transformation. The first United Nations Food Systems Summit held in New York on Sept 23, 2021 focused on food systems transformation. To achieve the goal of healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems, the FSS Scientific Group proposed five action tracks: ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all, shifting to sustainable consumption patterns, boosting nature-positive production, advancing equitable livelihoods, and building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress. These five action tracks are equally important and are interlinked.

China--the first developing country to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2, "zero hunger"--can provide important lessons and a roadmap for transforming global food systems. After all, the country feeds 18 percent of the world's population with only 9 percent of the global arable land and 6 percent of the world's freshwater. China's per capita food supplies reached 474 kilograms in 2020, far exceeding the international food security line of 400 kg. From 1990 to 2020, China's undernourishment rate declined from 22.9 percent to less than 2.5 percent. The per capita calorie intake increased from 2,161 calories per day in 1980 to 3,203 calories per day in 2018. The dietary structure has shifted to high energy, high protein and has become more diversified.

Since 1978, when the reform and opening-up policy was first initiated, China has sequentially chosen institutional arrangements and policies suitable for its different development stages, including emphasizing food security, agricultural and rural infrastructure construction, market reforms, research and extension. This was followed by a poverty reduction strategy targeting poor regions, communities and households, and the designing and implementation of national nutrition improvement programs. The latest priorities include protecting natural resources and the environment and reducing carbon emissions. China has also developed concrete plans for reducing food loss and waste, developing rural e-commerce, and enhancing the resilience of food systems.

For example, China's investment in the fixed assets of the agriculture sector expanded nearly 42 times (nominal price) from 2004 to 2018, with an average annual growth of 30.8 percent. The total investment in rural vitalization is expected to be over 7 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion) from 2018 to 2022.China also has the world's largest agricultural R&D and extension system in terms of personnel and public R&D spending.

The Chinese government has incorporated food security, national nutrition and sustainable development into the national development agenda. China has made important commitments in the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), the outline of the 2035 Vision, the outline of the "Healthy China 2030" plan, the Anti-Food Waste Law, and carbon peak and carbon neutrality goals.

To better transform food systems toward "healthier, more sustainable and more equitable" goals, China needs to provide more support for agricultural development and build a modern agricultural market system. China should also speed up rural vitalization, and strengthen public services and social security in rural areas. China needs to take more action in the following four areas.

A cross-department management and decision-making mechanism can be established by breaking through the administrative boundaries between different departments related to food systems, to coordinate national and local food systems support policies and investment priorities, and better support major national strategies such as food security, national nutrition, carbon peaking and carbon neutrality.

A nutrition-oriented and sustainable agricultural production system is needed. The goal of agrifood subsidies and public agrifood R&D should shift from the previous focus on production to multiple goals including high yields and efficiency, nutrition and health, sustainability, and climate adaptation and mitigation. The shift calls for increased investment in climate change and sustainable development, and promotion of green and sustainable transformation of the food system.

China must promote the transformation of the healthy and sustainable dietary structure. It should incorporate the healthy and sustainable dietary pattern into the national development strategy, guiding consumers to adopt healthy and sustainable diets. China needs to increase the consumption of whole grains, non-staple grains, fruits and legumes, and reduce the excessive consumption of refined grains, cooking oil and salt.

It should also participate more in international cooperation and global food system governance. China should diversify agricultural imports to maintain a stable agricultural trade environment and reduce agricultural trade risks. China can strengthen cooperation and exchange with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and use scientific research to promote food system transformation in China and the world. China should also invest more in other developing countries through South-South cooperation and technology transfer.

To sum up, the UN Food Systems Summit provides an opportunity for China to reflect on the lessons, experience and strategies of food system transformation. It is equally important for China to provide experience and lessons for food system transformation in other countries, and to promote food system transformation in China and globally.

Fan Shenggen is dean of the Academy of Global Food Economics and Policy and chair professor at China Agricultural University. Long Wenjin is an assistant professor in the College of Economics and Management at China Agricultural University. The authors contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn