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China food security law comes into force, aims for absolute self-sufficiency

By Mei Mei Chu

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s first food security law aimed at achieving “absolute self-sufficiency” in staple grains came into effect on Saturday, reinforcing efforts by the world’s biggest agriculture importer to lower its reliance on overseas purchases.

The law provides a legal framework for existing guidance by the Communist Party for local governments and the agricultural industry to raise food production, although it did not give details on how the law will be implemented.

It includes protection of farmland from being converted to other uses, protecting germplasm resources and preventing waste.

Passed just six months after its first reading, the rush to adopt the food security law reflects China’s urgency to resolve issues that have curbed production, such as a lack of arable land and water resources, labor shortages and a lack of agricultural technology.

The law holds central and provincial governments accountable for incorporating food security into their economic and development plans, ensuring that food supply remains a top priority in the country that has a painful history of famine.

The party will lead the implementation of a national food security strategy “that puts China first” by importing moderately and using advances in science and technology to increase production, according to a provision in the law.

“It shall adhere to the principle of storing grain in the ground and using technology to improve grain production,” it said, to ensure “basic self-sufficiency in cereal grains and absolute self-sufficiency in staple grains for food use.”

It also stipulates the formation of a national grain emergency plan and a food security monitoring system.

China expanded the definition of “coarse grains” to include millets and oats, in addition to sorghum, barley, buckwheat, mung beans and potatoes. Grains refers to wheat, rice, corn, soybeans and coarse grains.

Entities who violate the law may face a fine ranging from 20,000 yuan to 2 million yuan, while individual offenders may be slapped with fines between 20,000 yuan and 200,000 yuan.

The law also said China will “strengthen international food security cooperation and allow international grain trade to play its role.” It did not give details.

Analysts said the law is worded vaguely and may not have a significant impact on how China boosts food production.

“It doesn’t change the realities on the ground for local officials who were already under significant pressure to deliver on food security,” Even Pay, agriculture analyst at Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China, said.

“The food security law enshrines existing practices in law, but isn’t set to change anything. Food security was already among the top national priorities, and can’t go any higher,” she added.

(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing by Naveen Thukral and Michael Perry)

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