North and Northeast China : When drought threatens food security

The population of China increases by 12-13 million people each year*. This incredible growth rate is accompanied by a national medium- to long-term objective of 100% self-sufficiency for major food crops. Understanding the impact of climate change on agricultural productivity is therefore crucial. A new study focuses on the largest potential threat to food security in China – drought. Almost every Chinese province has experienced drought loss during the last 50 years. North and Northeast China represent highly vulnerable areas that will be responsible for producing 25% of China’s food crops by 2030. Proposed solutions are firmly rooted in effective collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Recent memories

February 2009 saw the most recent drought in North and Northeast China. In North China, 4.4 million people and 2.1 million cattle then lacked adequate drinking water. While in the Northeast, burning sun destroyed soybean seedlings. The newly published research report integrates three possible climate change scenarios – continuation of today’s climate, moderate change and major change. The results, fully aligned with the plan for 100% self-sufficiency, offer concrete proposals for both prevention and effective mitigation.

Potential to avert 50% of drought loss by 2030

Nine defined measures, targeting irrigation, planting, seed engineering and construction, have the potential to avert 50% of drought loss in North and Northeast China. These amount to an investment of US$ 15bn. Furthermore, the report identifies the high value of agricultural insurance in transferring risk in the case of extreme droughts. Analysis indicates that this could cover around RMB 715m in the North and RMB 1bn in the North East. It would protect farmers against income loss, enabling them to rapidly rebuild their livelihoods in the case of drought-induced loss. Complementary risk transfer instruments could also reduce the immense financial burden on the government in establishing and distributing disaster relief funds. A key to the success of the adaptation strategy in China is highly efficient cooperation between the public and private sectors. By contributing their expertise, private companies such as Swiss Re can sow extremely fruitful seeds in the framework of clear and focused government policies and incentives.

* Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University

GDP, %1

1 Based upon select regions analyzed within the countries (e.g., Mopti, Mali; Georgetown, Guyana Hull, UK; North and Northeast China; Maharashtra, India; Central regions of Tanzania; Southeast Florida, U.S.)

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