This article is from WeChat public account:I am a scientist iScientist (ID: IamaScientist), author: Cui Kai, editor: Yuki, cover:

In 1994, American scholar Brown wrote an article titled “Who Supports China,” which attracted widespread attention in the Western world. In the past 25 years, China has used 18% of the world’s arable land to feed 18% of the population, but Brown’s question still deserves our vigilance.

On October 14, 2019, the State Council Information Office published the White Paper on China’s Food Security again after 23 years, clearly stating that in the medium and long term, China’s grain production and demand will remain in a tight balance.

01 China’s resource endowment

A song sung by singer Li Jian: “The prose poem written by his father”, which has a simple and unpretentious lyric: “In 1984, the crop was not harvested, and the son was lying in my arms and sleeping. It’s so sweet. Tomorrow I’m going to the neighbor’s house and borrow some money. The child cried for a whole day and was clamoring for biscuits. This is the text in my father’s diary, which is a prose poem left by his youth. This land has made me cry, and it has buried many people’s sad memories.”

We put the time coordinates in the song in 1984. That year’s harvest was good. China’s grain output exceeded 400 million tons for the first time, and the per capita grain was 390 kilograms, which is only 70% of today’s. At that time, these foods were able to maintain the basic food and clothing of the people, but they could not get more food to feed the pigs and raise chickens. In 1984, China’s per capita meat was only 15 kilograms, equivalent to a quarter of today’s. At that time, the state implemented a quantitative supply of food, and food purchases required food stamps. It was not until 1993 that the food stamps withdrew from the historical arena.

In 1980, I was still in elementary school and I was very thin. At that time, milk powder was a luxury for ordinary people. In order to help me supplement my nutrition, my fatherThe oil mill in the village bought protein-rich soybean meal and put it in a white cloth bag. I used my laundry stick to beat it. The cardamom is mashed and then blended into the cornmeal. The steamed corn has a unique bean flavor. Looking back today, the “corn + cardamom” that I ate when I was a teenager is today’s feed formula – these things are already ancient legends in the eyes of today’s young friends.

China’s grain production structure in 2018 | Source: National Bureau of Statistics

The line of sight turned back to today. Since 2015, China’s grain output has stabilized at 650 million tons for four consecutive years, plus 120 million tons of grain imported each year, with a total consumption of 770 million tons. If converted according to the weight, the import volume of 120 million tons is only equivalent to 1/6 of the total domestic production of 660 million tons. It seems that the problem is not big, but it is not. Converting the 120 million tons of imported grain into cultivated land is equivalent to 600 million mu of cultivated land.

If you add imported cotton, sugar, fruit, meat, milk powder, etc., it will exceed 700 million mu. According to the country’s 2 billion mu of cultivated land area, our cultivated land has an external dependence of 35%. Grain production requires the consumption of cultivated land, fertilizers, pesticides and fresh water. Imported food is essentially imported resources.

Please take a look at the form below. In terms of land area, 9.6 million square kilometers of China ranks third in the world, but in many places, the desert Gobi, which is dry and rainless, or the plateau cold land, which is low in temperature all year round, our cultivated land accounts for only 14% of the country’s land area. There are fewer people, and the per capita cultivated area is only 0.1 hectare, far lower than the agricultural powers such as Russia, the United States, Brazil and Argentina.

In a sense, the ability to feed 1.4 billion people is China’s greatest contribution to the world. However, we have also paid a heavy price for this – in order to control pests and diseases, a large number of pesticides are sprayed on the farmland, which seriously pollutes the water and soil environment and destroys the ecological balance. In my teenager’s memory, the sunset glows in the middle of the night, and the frog sounds in the summer night. Go and see today, this picture has become a memory.

In order to increase food production, we use one third of the world’s fertilizers. China’s chemical fertilizer use has been the world’s number one for more than 30 years since 1984. However, our fertilizer utilization rate is only 38%, far lower than the level of 50% to 60% in developed countries. The amount of chemical fertilizer used in food crops accounts for 1/2 of the total amount of crops (including vegetables, fruits, cotton, etc.), and today the average grain per 100 kg Need to fertilize 6 pounds.

Excessive fertilization destroys the soil structure of the cultivated land, causing soil compaction and salinization. Excess fertilizers flow into the lakes and lakes with rainwater, resulting in eutrophication of water bodies, algae plants that grow wild and water bodies stink. A large number of algae cover the water surface, shading and oxygen consumption, affecting the growth of underwater organisms, and the entire aquatic ecosystem is destroyed. The cyanobacteria outbreak in Taihu Lake is one of the most typical examples.

The quality of cultivated land is directly related to national food security. Black land is the most fertile soil in the world, and “the chopsticks are also sprouting”. The Northeast is one of the three major black soil regions in the world. The grain output accounts for 1/4 of the country’s total. The transfer volume accounts for one-third of the country’s total. It is an important granary in China. In these years, while the grain production increased, the black land was also overexploited and used, and the soil was obviously degraded and exhausted.

The black soil layer has fallen from 60 cm to 70 cm in the 1950s to 20 cm to 30 cm today. Black soil is a valuable resource that cannot be regenerated. It takes hundreds of years to form a 1 cm black soil layer. In the past, the black soil was thick, and the foot was stepped on like a sponge. Now the soil is thinner and less nutritious, and it has to be applied more. The more fertilizers are used, the more the soil is compacted, and even the footprints are not stepped on. “All things are born in the soil, there are earthy foods.” The sustainable development of black land needs to be solved urgently.

Northeast Black Land | Photo: Wan Ling Xun

China’s per capita water resources are only 2050 cubic meters, which is only 1/4 of the world average. Agricultural irrigation consumes 60% of China’s available water resources, while water use efficiency is only 30% to 40%, far below the level of 70% to 80% in developed countries. In the arid regions of the North, due to water shortages, some areas have overexploited groundwater resources for agricultural irrigation. Huabeijing Irrigation District is one of China’s major grain producing areas. Due to mining in the past 30 years, the groundwater level here has dropped by more than 20 meters, making it the largest underground funnel area in the world.

Looking ahead, China’s population peak is expected to occur around 2028, with a total population of about 1.42 billion. Although the population has since declined since then, it will not be less than 1.2 billion by 2050. In other words, China will still face food security pressures in the next 30 years.

Looking at the world, there are 7.6 billion people on the planet today, 10% of whom are hungry, including 150 million dysplastic children. It is estimated that by 2050, the world population will increase to 9.5 billion, and in 2100 it will reach 11 billion. It is not easy to let the earth feed so many people.

02 “Sacrifice” Soy, make sure “rice bowl”

China is the hometown of soybeans. 5,000 years ago, the ancestors of China began to plant soybeans. Since then, they have been “in the original, and the people have taken it.” There is a fragrant aroma of the Chinese nation in the tofu, and there is a poem of “cooking beans and burning soybean meal.” In the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century AD, Jianzhen Dongdu transferred soybeans to Japan. In the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century, soybeans were introduced to Europe and America from China. Today, soybean planting on the earth reaches 120 million hectares, accounting for about 8% of the world’s cultivated land. It can be said that soybean is the best gift China gives to the world.

In the middle of the last century, it was a glorious period of Chinese soybeans. Soybean, tea and silk are the three famous products exported by China and enjoy high reputation in the world. At that time, China’s soybean acreageIt accounts for 40% of the world, but it fell to 20% in the 1980s and is now only 7%. In 1995, China began to become a soybean importer, and its imports soared to 90 million tons in 2018, accounting for two-thirds of the global soybean trade.

Why import so many soybeans? Many people don’t understand this. There are industry-stricken tragedies, food security concerns, GM debates, and patriotic sentiments in trade wars. Intricately cut, cut constantly, and still chaos.

Soybean is a protein-rich grain, and this characteristic also determines its fate – an indispensable feed ingredient. The meat, eggs, and milk on our table are all converted from feed. In the feed, corn accounts for 65%, and soybean meal after oil extraction accounts for 20%. Pigs can grow 1 kg of meat for every 2.7 kg of feed, and 1 kg of meat or 1 kg of eggs can be produced for every 2 kg of feed.

Northeast Soybean | Photographed at Jilin Agricultural University Experimental Farm

In the 1990s, people’s lives began to “eat” and the consumption of meat and eggs increased rapidly. The meat production increased from 28 million tons in 1990 to 85 million tons in 2018, which improved the whole 3 times. Soymeal demand as a core ingredient in feed also increased year-on-year. Today, the domestic soybean production is only 15 million tons, and the import volume reaches 90 million tons. In other words, soybean dependence on imports exceeds 80%.

A public questioned: Why not expand the planting area of ​​domestic soybeans? China is the world’s most populous country, and food security is heavier than Mount Tai. One side is the growing population and meat and milk consumption, and the other is the 2 billion mu of cultivated land that is stretched. In order to protect the rice bowl in its own hands, China can only choose to “sacrifice” soybeans, giving priority to ensuring the area planted with rice and wheat. It is certainly the most reasonable choice to grow relatively high-yield staple crops with cultivated land saved from imported soybeans.

In fact, farmers also lack the willingness to grow soybeans. Soybean productionThe amount is low, and the planting income is only 1/2 of that of corn and wheat. The northeast is the main soybean producing area. In the song “Home in the Northeast”, there is a lyric: “My home is on the Songhua River in the northeast, where there are soy sorghums in the mountains.” Today, if you really go to the northeast, you will have a large area. Soybeans and sorghum have long been replaced by corn.

There is also public comment: Why import US soybeans? The annual global soybean production is about 350 million tons. In some major producing countries, domestic consumption is deducted, and only 150 million tons can be exported for international trade, including 60 million tons in the United States. China imports 90 million tons of soybeans. If it completely blocks US soybeans, it means that we have to buy global trade soybeans outside the US, which is unrealistic.

The trade war between China and the United States in 2018 is filled with smoke: The United States uses chips as spears, and China uses soybeans as shields. The Chuhe Hanjie, who did not give each other, was finally Brazil. how do I say this? Brazil and the United States are the two largest exporters of soybeans worldwide. In 2017, among the imported soybeans in China, the share of Brazil and the United States was 53% and 34% respectively.

By 2018, this ratio became 75% and 19%. Among the surge in Brazilian soybean exports, how many of them are sold to China by translating US soybeans into Brazil’s vests through entrepot trade? unknown. The Amazon rainforest is known as the lungs of the Earth, and 60% of Amazon is in Brazil. Protecting the rainforest is a burden, and developing agriculture is a benefit. In the face of economic stagnation and the gap between rich and poor, Brazil has extensively cut down tropical rainforests in recent years to grow soybeans and graze beef cattle.

Harvested soybean plants | Photographed at Jilin Agricultural University Experimental Farm

There is also public questioning: Why import GM soybeans? Why not seek alternative imports from countries such as Russia? Here I want to tell you that the soybean trade volume of the three countries of the United States, Brazil and Argentina accounts for 90% of the world’s total. Other countries