Arguments - Impact
|Science and Technology in Agriculture, Livestock Production, and
the Food Industry
|Science and technology will
be the principal keys to unlocking China's food resources. Productivity in China's
agricultural sector could be increased substantially if existing conventional technologies
were implemented more widely. There are huge regional differences in crop yields
and livestock productivity. Post-harvest food processing and the logistics of the Chinese
food system would also benefit greatly from modern transportation and processing
technology. In the future it will be advanced breeding methods that help to
further increase the productivity of crop plants and livestock in China. A great leap in
producing food could come from genetically improved varieties of fish and other seafood
that would increase the productivity of fish farming.
|Science and technology
could affect China's food system primarily in four ways:
management, irrigation, and livestock production can be improved with conventional
food processing and distribution would benefit from widespread implementation of existing
biotechnology could revolutionize the breeding of crop plants and animals.
could help to develop more productive aquaculture and sea-ranching systems that do not
damage the environment.
|Soil management, irrigation, livestock production
|The Green Revolution -
essentially the application of science and technology to agriculture - was an important
step in boosting food production in China. Although many Western critics feared that these
techniques would widen income disparities in rural areas, the contrary happened in China.
There is now general agreement that, while poverty did not vanish, it declined
significantly (see Hazell and Ramasamy, 1991 for a discussion of the benefits of the Green
Revolution in India). What China needs now is a program that will bring the Green
Revolution (and the idea of private family farming) to all the remote corners of the
country. Implementation and dissemination are crucial. There is a whole range of existing
conventional technologies that could be implemented more widely in China to improve the
country's agricultural sector and food supply.
It is well documented that adequate fertilizer application, crop sanitation,
irrigation, and soil management can massively increase crop yields. China's farmers have
already more than tripled grain yields since 1992, and there is ample evidence that an
increase in the application of fertilizers and use of irrigation played a major role in
For instance, Wang et al. (1996) have analyzed in detail the relationship between chemical
fertilizer application since 1952 and the spectacular improvement of crop yields in China.
In their study, they specified a grain yield response function in which they took into
account not only chemical and organic fertilizer application, but also other technological
and institutional factors. Their results indicate that grain yields during 1952-1993 were
significantly determined by fertilizer application and other technological factors (see
Wang et al., 1996, pp. 283-296) (see also Figure 1).
However, there is still much room for improvement. Available statistics at the provincial
and county levels clearly indicate huge differences in crop productivity.
IIASA's LUC Project has analyzed county-level data from the Chinese State Land
Administration which show that large areas of cropland still have only minimal fertilizer
application per hectare. There is a "belt" of counties with very low fertilizer
input that stretches from the northwestern Shanxi province to the northern parts of
Shaanxi, and to areas in the northern Hebei province. Very little fertilizer application
is also reported in many agricultural counties in Guizhou and Yunnan and in southern
Shaanxi (see Map 1).
Not surprisingly, there is also very little irrigation in these areas. Typically, only
some 10-20% of the cropland is irrigated. While some of these areas have sufficient
rainfall for rain-fed agriculture, others are clearly affected by a severe water deficit.
In the center of China and in the counties east and northeast of Beijing, in particular,
production could be increased if more irrigation were available (see Maps 1 and 2).
Wang et al. (1996) have also emphasized these regional divergences in fertilizer
application. In addition, they have shown that in some areas there is a serious imbalance
in the application of various components of chemical fertilizers. In these areas,
fertilizer efficiency could be improved by increasing the proportion of phosphates and
potash (see: Wang et al, 1996, pp. 283-296).
IIASA's LUC Project has calculated average crop values (in yuan per hectare) for all
counties with crop production in China (for details see Map 3). The results clearly show
that there are great divergences in crop production values between cultivated areas in
China that can be partly explained by the large divergences in agricultural inputs (of
course, climate factors are the principal cause of these divergences). Very
"profitable" crop production is possible in the provinces of Hubei, Hunan, and
parts of Jiangsu. Very poor crop production values are generated in the provinces of
Gansu, Ningxia, and Northern Shaanxi. There is a low-income belt from crop cultivation
stretching from Central to Northeastern China (see Map 3).
|Post-harvest food processing and distribution
|We have found no data
that specifically demonstrate the impact of technology on food processing and distribution
in China. However, significant improvement is possible, particularly in the sector of food
logistics. Food transport and distribution in China is largely based on physical labor and
rather primitive means of transportation. The three-wheeled heavy-load bicycle is still a
dominant means of short- to medium-range food transport. Lack of infrastructure and
transport capacity are serious food supply bottlenecks in cases of regional harvest
failure. The high-tech food supply system of Western countries, based on large supermarket
chains, wholesalers, industrial food processors, and a specialized food transportation
industry (with cold storage trucks for the transport of meat and dairy products) is
largely unknown in China. In 1995, in all of China there were only some 1,800 refrigerated
trucks and about 1,500 refrigerated rail cars (see Gilmour, 1997, p. 235), which is not
nearly sufficient for supplying all major urban areas. Regional markets for perishable
food, such as meat, vegetables, fish, and fruit are basically restricted to affluent
coastal cities, which have adequate rail, road, and port facilities. Interior regions and
especially the rural areas largely depend on the supply of local markets.
As the serious deficits in China's food transportation infrastructure and
technology cannot be solved overnight, it is essential to optimize the regional pattern of
production. This is particularly important in the case of meat production. Many large
producers of pork, poultry, and dairy products are located in inland provinces,
far from the consumers in coastal cities (see Maps for the distribution of pigs and large
animals in China, Map 4 and Map 5). We also believe that China will find it necessary to
increase feed grain imports, which will enter the country through the major ports. These
imports should not have to be transported to the large meat producers inland. A more
efficient solution would be to produce perishable food (such as meat, poultry, and fruits)
in the coastal provinces, where they have easier access to markets and supplies.
|Advanced Methods in Breeding
|In recent years,
Chinese officials have come to the conclusion that China will not be able to feed itself
simply by implementing conventional agricultural and food technology more widely.
They have realized that domestic competence in advanced biotechnology is
essential if China is to feed its population in the 21st century. As Science
demonstrated in its special issue "Science in China - A Great Leap Forward," the
country is building up an impressive infrastructure of world-class research centers,
especially in agriculture- and food-related research fields such as biotechnology, plant
genetics, and breeding research (Science, Vol. 270, 1131-1153).
The University of Wuhan, for instance, has a first-rate center for rice breeding
and biological pest control. The CAS Institute of Virology in Beijing has become one of
the world's leading centers on molecular virology and genetic engineering and is a key
laboratory in plant cell and chromosome engineering. In central Hunan province and on the
island of Hainan, China is conducting field tests of genetically modified plants on a
scale much larger than in the West (Science, Vol. 270).
In May 1996, Chinese government officials and science representatives gathered to
determine the country's research priorities. They decided that agricultural research
(aiming at increasing crop yields) should be a top research priority (Nature,
Vol. 381, p. 725). China wants to be a major player in the world race to improve the
biological productivity of crop plants and livestock by advanced methods of
|Aquaculture and Sea-Ranching: The "new frontiers" in the fight for
|One field where
intensified research could yield very profitable results is aquaculture. Fish is the fifth
most important agricultural commodity, accounting for 7.5% of total world food production.
In Asia, fish provides roughly 28% of total animal protein, and China is a leading country
in aquaculture. In 1992 China produced roughly 8.6 million tons of aquaculture products;
in comparison, the USA produced only 0.4 million tons. One scientific challenge is to
develop aquaculture systems that are integrated into agriculture, forestry, wastewater
treatment, or hydropower and do not pollute water bodies. The other challenge is to breed
genetically improved varieties of domesticated fish and other seafood just as we have been
breeding buffaloes, cows, or pigs.
Currently, we are exploiting the food resources of the sea in a primitive way - as hunters
and gatherers. "We catch fish like we used to hunt down buffaloes on the Great Plains
of the United States, with similar results," says Ismail Serageldin, World Bank Vice
President for Environmentally Sustainable Development (CGJAR, Press Release, 14 May 1995).
More than half of the world's fishing areas are in serious decline; two-thirds of the main
fish stocks are overfished. There can be no doubt that we have to overcome this
"pre-agricultural state" of marine protein depletion. China, as potentially the
largest consumer of seafood in the world, could maximize the use of its coastal waters
through sea-ranching of artificially reared marine species. Japan and Norway have
demonstrated the economic profitability of these methods. A country with limited arable
land resources such as China has a vital interest in boosting its protein supply by
intensifying fish farming and sea-ranching.
Without major research efforts, however, there is a danger that these new methods might
turn into environmental nightmares. While farming of plant-eating fish (such as carp)
seems relatively benign, serious environmental problems have been reported regarding
farming of carnivorous fish, such as shrimp and salmon. In a recent study Naylor (19XX)
found, that these systems increase the depletion of fisheries, because they require more
"trash fish" for feeding than they produce in bodyweight. Naylor reports that in
1997 it took some 1.8 million tons of wild fish to produce just 644,000 tons of farmed
Atlantic salmon. Because of the increase in fishmeal demand for farmed high-quality fish,
certain species in the middle range of maritime food chains are now seriously depleted.
The anchovy population in the Red Sea is about to disappear. There is also the danger that
high concentrations of farmed fish lead to overuse of antibiotics, which might enter the
human food chain via fish meat and increase antibiotic resistance. It has also been found
that antibiotics can pollute the seabed below the fish farms. Shrimp farms, in particular,
seem to be heavy polluters of coastal waters.
While some analysts have concluded that these difficulties in fish farming will inevitably
require a more vegetarian diet in the future, other options are more likely. First, there
is still a great potential for cultivation of plant-eating fish, particularly in China
with its paddy rice agriculture. Second, carnivorous fish could be farmed in closed
floating pens, which would allow the collection and proper removal of antibiotics and
other wastes so they would not pollute the marine environment. Third, larger coastal areas
could be used for fish farming, which would reduce the fish concentration and thus
diminish demand for antibiotics. Fourth, breeding could increase the productivity of those
species that are used in fish farming. Finally, there is a chance that researchers might
find feed alternatives, such as yeast-protein-based growth meal. This would reduce the
demand for fishmeal (see Science News Online, 7 November 1998).
In conclusion we can say that fish-farming is one of the best ways for China to help
generate the protein supply for its population in the 21st century, especially if it steps
up research in this field.
Science & Technology: Trends
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