China’s Impending Drought and its Implications

Another major drought looks set to hit Chinese grain production this year, with some officials suggesting that the drought could be the worst in 60 years (while in Shandong province specifically, some are suggesting that it could be the worst drought in 200 years).

A recent China Daily article says “Some 2.57 million people and 2.79 million livestock are suffering from drinking water shortages, official figures showed…Eight major grain-producing provinces, including Shandong, Jiangsu, Henan, Hebei and Shanxi, have been affected. Together they produce more than 80 percent of China’s winter wheat.”  In response to the drought, the People’s Daily reports, “Zhang Qiang, head of Beijing’s artificial weather intervention office, said the office began cloud-seeding Wednesday night in nine districts and counties of Miyun, Mentougou, Yanqing, Haidian, Pinggu, Changping, Shijingshan, Fangshan and Huairou… By 6 a.m. Thursday, 759 silver iodide rods had been used to increase precipitation.” (sidenote: Interesting that China has state-sponsored & endorsed  “artificial weather intervention offices”).

The major issue is that if China’s domestic grain supplies tumble, they will be forced to purchase grain from the international market; which happens to already be overtaxed by under-supply.  This graph depicts the top 10 wheat importers by tonnage (chart found here; data from USDA).

As you can see, China is not in the top 10.  In fact its ranked 34, between Iraq and Pakistan.  For a country the size of China to be that far down this list is very surprising, and goes to show how self-sufficient they are.  However, this hides the mass of people in China.

Furthermore, sustained temperature increases can be expected from climate change, along with more frequent extreme events, including droughts and dry-spells.  If China were to switch permanently to a grain importer, rather than a grain exporter (as Lester Brown suggested over a decade ago), then serious adjustments to global food production will need to be addressed, including increased exploration of GM and non-GM drought resistant varieties.

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