After a five day visit to China, World Food Program executive director James Morris announced that his organization would no longer provide food aid to China. Noting China’s phenomenal economic progress over the past 25 years, Morris said that China no longer faces the sort of food insecurity problems that the WFP must, of necessity, focus its resources on.
Morris told the BBC,
Our job is to feed the hungriest, poorest people, wherever they are in the world. We are very focused on those countries that would be the least developed, that would have the greatest food security problem, and the least per capita income. China is no longer one of those countries.
Morris went on to add that, “China now has this extraordinary experience of how to move a large number of people out of hunger and poverty.”
Just don’t tell Lester Brown.
Back in 1995, Lester Brown wrote one in a long line of prophetic books about overpopulation, “Who Will Feed China? A Wake-Up Call for a Small Planet.” Published as a WorldWatch book, the plot was simple — China’s rapid growth in industrialization combined with its sky high population meant that China would soon need levels of grain imports that were simply impossible. After all, according to WorldWatch
Within a span of two years (1992-1994), China has gone from being a net grain exporter of 8 million tons to being a net importer of 16 million tons. China’s overnight emergence as a leading importer of grain, second only to Japan, is driving up world grain prices, promising to raise food prices everywhere, the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental research institute, said in a study released today.
Brown projected massive, unbelievable grain import demands from China. He suggested that simply to feed all of the chickens necessary to meet China’s demands for eggs by 2000 would require the equivalent in grain imports of the entire Australian production.
The reality, of course, was a bit different. China’s brief period as a net importer of grain turned out to be an anomaly. For example, other than 1994-95 and 1995-96 when it as a net importer of corn, China has been the second leading exporter of corn, behind only the United States.
Brown and others, as they always do, vastly underestimated the ability of China’s grain production capabilities.
Rather than China’s rapid industrialization and economic growth outstripping its ability to produce food, China, as Morris noted, “has built its capacity to address its own problems, it doesn’t need us any more.”
Brown made two fundamental errors of the type commonly made by prophets of doom. First, he assumed that very short trends — in this case, just over two years (!!) — represented long-term trends. Second, he assumed that the development model that Japan followed — rapid industrialization and population expansion that quickly created land shortages — would also be applicable to China, despite the obvious dissimilarities between the two (Brown might want to locate Japan and China on a map someday and compare and contrast the respective land mass of the two countries).
China ‘ no longer needs food aid’. The BBC, December 13, 2004.
UN Agency to Halt Food Aid to China. Benjamin Sand, NewsVOA.Com, December 14, 2004.
Future Directions for China’s Food Demand. Robert Wisner, AgDM Newsletter, November 2000.
Who Will Feed China:
Wake-Up Call for a Small Planet. Press Release, WorldWatch Institute, November 3, 1995.