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Feeding China

By Peter Goodchild

01 February, 2013

The most significant result of communist policy in both the Soviet Union and China has been famine. About 5 million died of famine in the Soviet Union in 1932-34, purely because of Stalin's misguided policies. The worst famine in all of world history, however, was that of Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward," 1958-61, when about 30 million people died. Now hunger is again looming in China.

China is the world's leader in the mining or processing of quite a number of natural resources: aluminum, coal, gold, iron, magnesium, phosphate, zinc, and rare-earth minerals, for example. Yet basic energy reserves will soon be in short supply. Although China has about 20 percent of the world's population, it produces only about 5 percent of the world's oil, it uses up coal so quickly that its reserves will not last beyond 2030, and the country's pollution problems are terrible.

China's arable land is in decline. Lester Brown notes that "from 1950 to 1975 an average of 600 square miles of land in China's north and west turned to desert each year. By the turn of the century, nearly 1,400 square miles of land was going to desert annually."

Most countries with water shortages are pumping at rates that cannot be maintained: the shallower aquifers could be replenished if pumping were reduced, but the deeper "fossil" aquifers cannot be rejuvenated when their levels are allowed to fall. Among the latter is that of the North China Plain, which maintains half of the country's wheat production and a third of its corn. As a result of the depletion of water, Chinese annual grain production has been in decline since 1998.

According to Brown, "China now imports four-fifths of its soybeans. . . . Nearly 60 percent of world soybean exports go to China. . . . How much grain will China import? How will it compare with their soybean imports? No one knows for sure, but if China were to import only 20 percent of its grain, it would need 80 million tons, an amount only slightly less than the 90 million tons of grain the United States exports to all countries each year."

Canada and China are roughly the same size, with roughly the same amount of arable land and a similar range of climates, but China's population is 43 times larger. The Chinese population has once more outgrown its food supply: the ratio of people to arable land in China is more than twice that of the world average, which is already too high to prevent hunger.


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Peter Goodchild is the author of Survival Skills of the North American Indians, published by Chicago Review Press. His email address is prjgoodchild[at] gmail.com




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