China Wastes 35 Million Metric Tons of Grain a Year—Enough to Feed 200 Million

A farmer harvests rice in Xizhou county, China Photograph by Ariana Lindquist/Bloomberg

Chinese officials like to point out that their country has less than 10 percent of the world’s arable land but has to feed a fifth of the world’s population. So you would think that China obsessively ensures there is no wastage in its agriculture sector. You would be wrong.

Every year China wastes at least 35 million metric tons of grain through subpar storage, during transportation by truck, rail, and boat, and through excessive processing, said a Chinese official earlier this week. “The losses can feed 200 million people for a year, which is shameful,” said Chen Yuzhong, an official with the State Administration of Grain, reported China Daily today.

In particular, 27.5 million tons is lost through improper storage and transportation, while another 7.5 million tons is destroyed during processing, he said. Excessive processing that leads to waste happens as companies polish rice two or three times, according to Wang Lirong, a quality engineer in the State Administration of Grain.

“Nowadays, consumers have a higher demand for the appearance of rice in color and shape, but whiter rice doesn’t mean more nutrition,” Wang said.

Of China’s 210 million farming families, only 3 percent stockpile the grain in the most effective fashion, according to statistics from China’s agriculture ministry. China’s major grain-producing provinces of Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang lack granaries for about 35 million tons of grain.

Despite its massive waste, China is doing a good job of feeding its population, mainly by upping overall production through technological improvements, and by giving its farmers more incentives to produce, said Premier Li Keqiang earlier this week. Li made his remarks on Oct. 15 in Rome, on the occasion of China pledging a $50 million donation to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“Food for all is a fundamental human right, upon which all other human rights depend. China has a bitter memory of hunger and wants to see a world free from hunger and poverty,” said Li. “We are willing to share our technologies and expertise, without reservation.”

The proportion of people in China experiencing undernourishment has dropped from 22.9 percent in 1990 to 1992, to 11.4 percent in 2011 to 2013. Over the same period, the number of those facing chronic hunger has fallen from 272.1 million to 158 million, according to the FAO.

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