A Risk for Future Food Prices?

Or of land…acquisitions…or both?

About one tenth of China’s farmland is polluted by lead, zinc, and other heavy metals to “striking” levels exceeding official limits[.]


About…8 million acres…of China’s farmland is too polluted to grow crops, a government official said on Monday, highlighting the risk facing agriculture after three decades of rapid industrial growth.

The area of China’s contaminated land is about the same size as Belgium.

The Wall Street Journal reports that

Figures released by the Ministry of Land and Resources on Monday in Beijing indicated as much as 2.5% of China’s soil could be too contaminated by heavy metals and other pollutants to farm.  Meanwhile, the share of China’s land that is arable fell by a fifth of a percent during the three years ended in 2009 due to pollution, urbanization, and other reasons….


The pollution figure equals about 2.5% of China’s 2.027 billion mu [roughly 340 million acres] in total arable land in 2012, according to a calculation by The Wall Street Journal.  The total arable land figure, down about 0.2% from 2.031 billion mu [338 million acres] in 2009, was also…newly released by the [Land Bureau] on Monday.

Further, much of the PRC’s farmland starts out as not good farmland:

Almost a quarter of China’s arable land is located in areas considered poor for farming, such as hillsides, the bureau said.

One result is this:

In recent years, China’s land shortage has helped drive facets of its foreign policy, from state-supported purchases of farmland and agro-business groups around the world to its appetite for foreign agricultural commodities like US corn.

The PRC also is concluding a deal to lease 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) of Ukrainian farmland for the next 50 years, for instance.

This comes on the heels of another pessimistic report on the viability of Chinese farmland.

Chinese demand—need—for food won’t explode overnight, or even necessarily over the next few years.  If Chinese demographics don’t improve, the demand might not get much larger than it is today.

Still, for a world that has trouble feeding itself, at least in part through the affordability of food, this is a matter on which it’s useful to keep an eye.  Among other things, as the competition for farm-grown food heats up, so will prices and the competition for fisheries, including those in the South and East China Seas.

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