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Drought hits wheat production in China

Nearly a fifth of wheat-growing areas in China are suffering from a long spell of dry weather, with some provinces in the north and centre of the country experiencing their worst drought in over 60 years.

The province of Shandong has been particularly badly affected, with many parts having seen no rain for four months. Experts are concerned that if the drought continues, yields of the winter wheat which make up over 90 per cent of the country’s wheat-harvest, could be severely reduced. At the moment, earlier irrigation has sustained much of the crop, but as spring temperatures warm up, losses could be dramatic if no rain falls in the coming months.

With water levels dangerously low in reservoirs, nearly a quarter of a million Chinese are facing shortages in drinking water and trucks are already being used to deliver supplies. Earlier this month, the Chinese government pledged 15 billion dollars to help farmers affected by the drought and Premier Wen Jiabao visited the drought-hit region of Henan at the weekend. During his visit, the Premier promised more water-saving projects would be set up and called for further investment in technologies which reduce water usage. The drought is likely to put even more pressure on food prices, which have been rising sharply over recent months. The Chinese government has been battling to keep down the rising cost of food, which forces up inflation and puts extra strain on poor households.

China isn’t the only country taking steps; authorities in India, Jordan, South Korea and Algeria have put in place various measures to try and offset higher food prices amid growing consumer unease. The current pressure on food supplies around the globe comes as a new report warns urgent action will be needed to avert global hunger in the future. ‘The Foresight Report on Food and Farming Futures’, a study commissioned by the UK government, states that current food systems are unsustainable and will fail to address world hunger unless processes are radically redesigned. The two-year study has involved 400 experts from 35 countries and concludes that action must be taken now to meet the 40 per cent more food, 30 per cent more water and 50 per cent more energy required by an estimated population of 8.3 million people in 20 years time.

These kind of increases can only be achieved by radical changes in food production across all fronts, including changes to farming, water and energy usage and the minimising of waste. According to the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Beddington, the billion people who overeat and are obese in the world are as much a symptom of food failure as the 925 million hungry people and a possible further billion who lack the necessary micronutrients for health. Professor Beddington endorses the view of the report’s authors that “nothing less is required than a redesign of the whole food system” and he calls for food and agricultural issues to be raised higher up the political agenda, alongside climate change, energy and water issues, which are all “intimately related”.

The report does highlight some success stories, such as trials in Africa which have trebled food production. And it also notes the heavy investment in agriculture undertaken by China, which is one of the few countries to have met its Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger. However, with the current drought in the wheat-growing provinces, the Chinese authorities would no doubt concur with the report’s conclusions, that better ways of growing food and the harnessing of new technology will be increasingly vital for ensuring food supplies into the future.

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