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Presentation

2nd Revision

Introduction

 
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.
Description of Problem
Science and technology could affect China's food system primarily in four ways:
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) Soil management, irrigation, and livestock production can be improved with conventional technology.
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) Post-harvest food processing and distribution would benefit from widespread implementation of existing technology.
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) Advanced biotechnology could revolutionize the breeding of crop plants and animals.
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) Research could help to develop more productive aquaculture and sea-ranching systems that do not damage the environment.
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Discussion
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 this achievement.
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).
Fertilizer Application and Grain Yields
Figure 1

Fertilizer Application (county level)
Map 1

Proportion of Irrigated Cropland (county level)
Map 2

Crop Value (in Yuan / hectare)
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.
Number of Pigs (in 1000)
Map 4

Large Animals per sqkm of Area
Map 5

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 bioengineering.
 
Aquaculture and Sea-Ranching: The "new frontiers" in the fight for food
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.
 
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Science & Technology:   Trends     Impact    Data Quality    Prediction Error    Intervention Possibilities    Intervention Costs