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In-depth Analyses
How did China's supply of non-grain commodities change between 1964-66 and 1994-1996?
This analysis makes use of FAO food balance sheets for China that have been averaged over the three-year periods of 1964-1966 and 1994-1996. This was done to eliminate random annual fluctuations in the reference periods. The analysis shows the changes in China's food system between the pre-reform period in the mid-1960s and the current situation.
This section makes extensive use of the corresponding tables with food balance sheets; reading it would greatly facilitated by printing the following tables: (1) 1964-1966, (2) 1994-1996, (3) change between 1994-1996 and 1964-1966, and (4) percentage change between 1994-1996 and 1964-1966.
Starchy roots: Decline as food, increase as feed
The production of starchy roots (potatoes etc.) grew much slower than that of other crops: between the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s, it increased from 103 to 169 million tons, or 64%. (For comparison, maize production increased by 350%.) All of this increase was for feeding animals. The total starchy root supply for feed increased from 20 to 74 million tons. The starchy root supply for food actually declined slightly from 75 to 74 million tons.
Vegetable oils: Trend toward fried food
Between the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s there was a fivefold increase in the supply of vegetable oils for human consumption. Production increased from 1.7 to 6.9 million tons. Correspondingly, the production of oil crops jumped from 15.9 to 44.2 million tons. This trend reflects the growing demand for fried food in China, especially in restaurants in cities and towns.
Vegetables and fruits: A big improvement in food quality
The pre-reform food supply in the People's Republic of China was characterized by a monotonous diet of rice, starchy roots, wheat products, and pulses, with few vegetables and almost no meat or fish. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, a much richer diet became possible. Between 1964-1966 and 1994-1996, the production of vegetables increased from 38 to 183 million tons and the production of fruits grew from 11 to 68 million tons. With the exception of meat and alcoholic beverages (which are discussed below), no other food commodity had a more spectacular increase. There was almost no change in utilization: in both the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s, most of the vegetables and fruits were used for human consumption. This increase in vegetable and fruit production explains much of China's land-use change in agriculture. The conversion of cropland to vegetable fields, orchards, and fish ponds is a major trend in land-use change in China. Far from being the sign of an emerging food crisis, these diet-related land-use changes reflect the emergence of a more balanced diet and more consumer-oriented agriculture in China.
Alcoholic beverages / stimulants: Room for pleasure "food"
Those who believe that China is on the brink of a food crisis should probably study the country's trends in the production of alcoholic beverages and stimulants (such as tea and coffee). Measured as a percentage increase, their production grew faster than that of any other food product. In 1964-1966, China produced 1.1 million tons of alcoholic beverages (mostly beer and some wine); by 1994-1996, production was about 26.9 million tons, a 24-fold increase. The production of stimulants increased from 122,000 to 659,000 tons. Alcoholic beverages (mostly beer) now contribute some 82 kcal per person per day to the average diet, comparable to the calorie contribution of vegetables (which is 98 kcal per person per day). These trends clearly indicate that China obviously can afford to use a growing share of its grain supply for producing beer. This also explains why the amount of processed cereals increased from 155,000 tons to 10.2 million tons between 1964-1966 and 1994-1996.
Animal protein (meat, fish and seafood, milk, eggs): Production increases
China's significant increase in the production of animal protein is more widely known. According to FAO estimates (which are probably the most accurate), China's meat production increased from 6.6 to 47.9 million tons between the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s. The average per capita supply of meat (mostly pork) grew from some 8.8 to 47.1 kg per person per year. (This FAO estimate is very similar to results from Chinese household surveys, which are somewhat higher than the per capita data from official production statistics. See the discussion of data problems in the meat sector.) China's protein supply also benefited from the increase in fish and seafood production from 3.3 to 24.3 million tons. The supply of animal fats (such as butter) for human consumption increased from 412,000 tons to 2.1 million tons; there were also significant per capita increases in the supply of milk and eggs. As we have shown elsewhere in this application, this growing demand in animal protein has triggered a massive expansion of feed grain production.
Pulses: Losing ground
The big "losers" among food commodities are starchy roots (which we have already discussed) and pulses. Despite its population growth, China today has only half the pulses production as in the mid-1960s (4.8 million tons versus 8.6 million tons). The per capita supply declined from 9.7 to about 1.6 kg per person per year. As in many other countries, fewer people in China seem to be eating beans, peas, and other pulses - which is unfortunate from a nutritional point of view, because these plants contain highly valuable food components.
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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.)