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Bruins, H. J., & Bu, F. (2006). Food security in China and contingency planning: the significance of grain reserves

Bibliographic details:

Bruins, H. J., & Bu, F. (2006). Food security in China and contingency planning: the significance of grain reserves. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management14(3), 114-124.


China is inhabited by ca 20 percent of the world population, but has only 7 percent of global arable land and only 6.6 percent of global freshwater resources. These unfavourable relationships between population size and the basic resources for food production – soil and water – require careful food security and contingency planning by the Chinese authorities. The country has been remarkably successful in raising its food production since 1949 at a faster rate (400 percent) than the increase in its population (240 percent). This has basically been achieved by increasing the yields per unit area with enhanced fertilizer use, as the total size of arable land has been decreasing in recent years. Though China attempts to be largely self‐sufficient in food grain production, two possible contingency scenarios are suggested that might cause grave problems: (1) severe multi‐annual drought; (2) reduced chemical fertilizer manufacturing. If Chinese food production would drop as a result by, say, 33 percent, famine, the dreaded scourge throughout Chinese history, might recur. A shortage of ca 150 million tons of food grains cannot easily be buffered by the volume of food grains annually traded on the world market, ca 240 million tons. Much of this amount tends to be committed already to traditional buyers, as most countries in the world have to import food grains. Cash reserves, therefore, may not guarantee food purchases, because global grain reserves are limited and declining. The formation and maintenance of large internal food grain reserves in China, common in its tradition and ancient history, seem the only realistic contingency planning strategy to avert famine in case of a severe decline in its food production in future crisis years.