IUFN - China's Food System - Appetite for change

Appetite for change: transformations in China’s food system

“Shortages of good quality arable land and water scarcity help to explain why the Chinese state is becoming ever more anxious about food security, especially urban food security” explains British planner Kevin Morgan¹ . With more than half of its population living in cities, an urbanization rate expected to exceed 77% by 2050 and amongst the lowest ratios of arable land per capita, China’s urban food system is set to face extreme stresses in the very near future. According to the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) recent major report Appetite for change: transformations in China’s food system, it has already been undergoing great economic, social and environmental changes.

Those to be highlighted include:
•    A large increase in the volume and diversity of foods produced, with particularly rapid growth in the livestock, aquaculture and horticultural sectors, and a rapidly growing food processing sector
•    Changes in supply chains,  including a gradual scaling up of production operations and various forms of horizontal and vertical integration in some supply chains
•    Growth of new forms of food retailing, including the emergence of supermarkets, convenience and fast food catering sectors
•    Greater international engagement, including imports (notably soy for livestock feed) and  growing horticultural and aquaculture exports, as well as inward investment by overseas manufacturers and retailers and outward investment in food production and processing overseas
•    Rapid growth in incomes and urbanization have led to significant changes in what people eat: diets are more diverse, consumption of animal products and processed foods has risen substantially, and there has been a growth in eating out of the home.

Urbanization is also identified as one of the major challenges. The authors highlight its main consequences on population’s health and on the environment. Indeed, urbanization has direct impact on diet and eating habits and consequently on our health. As far as environment is concerned, .if official policies try to preserve arable land around cities,, industrial and urban development place arable land under great pressure and the pollution of cities are a threat to food safety.
China is moving. A significant decline in hunger and malnutrition has been achieved through an improved access to affordable, diverse and enjoyable food for local populations.  But according to FCRN, the key challenges for policy makers still need to be addressed. They include environmental pollution and degradation, food safety concerns and the rising prevalence of obesity and chronic diseases. In such a huge, diverse and rapidly transforming country as China, this requires both integrated approaches but also differentiated local policies that are sensitive to social, economic and environmental contexts and scales.  The report also emphasizes the potential of international collaboration to find solutions to issues that are not only faced by China.

¹Kevin Morgan (2013) The Rise of Urban Food Planning, International Planning Studies, 18:1, 1-4

The full report is available here.

More information on the Food Climate Research Network is available here.