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Arguments - Data Quality
Agricultural Policy
While policy measures and legislation are crucial factors of food security, they are difficult or impossible to measure quantitatively. China's agricultural policy, its land-related legislation, and the government's price or market regulations can usually be described only verbally and through anecdotal evidence.
Moreover, there is often a big difference in China between official policy and legislation and actual practice or implementation. A good example is China's recent Grain Bag policy, which assigns greater autonomy - but also additional responsibility - to the provincial governments for managing the grain sector. Depending on the political and economic orientation of the provincial leadership, measures are implemented rather differently. There is also the problem of corruption, which further widens the gap between official policies and actual practice.
However, the greatest obstacle to gaining detailed insight into China's (agricultural) policy, is the reluctance of Chinese officials to provide access to certain statistics, such as even simple grain trade statistics between provinces (presumably because they are afraid outsiders might learn about grain deficits or production crises in certain provinces). From a Western perspective, it appears that in China statistical data that show negative trends are still considered an embarrassment and not just a simple warning indicator; therefore, if possible, they are better not reported. The same pattern seems to prevail in policy-making. Policies are typically presented in the media as great achievements, even if they are only preventing a situation from getting worse. The real intentions of policy measures are usually not clear initially, because they are hidden behind a curtain of political phraseology (a typical case is, again, the Grain Bag policy). Only after a few years does it becomes clear to outside observers what the real purpose of a certain policy measure was. Even political observers who have lived in China for years have indicated their ignorance of the inner workings of Chinese politics. For all its openness to the outside world, China is still a very secretive country, and it is usually a mistake to take easily available information at face value (particularly in the field of politics).
Related Arguments

Agricultural Policy:   Trends     Impact    Data Quality    Prediction Error    Intervention Possibilities    Intervention Costs

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Revision 2.0 (First revision published in 1999)  - Copyright 2011 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. (First revision: Copyright 1999 by IIASA.)