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The Effect of the Drought and Floods in China on Food Security

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According to the data from the Chinese Meteorological Centre, this summer remarked the hottest summer in the country since 1961.[1] The drought emerging from the increasing temperatures negatively affects many regions and cities in China. In some parts of the Yangtze River Basin (YRB), which is one of the most important and large rivers in the country, the temperature has risen above 40 degrees, with the water level decreasing in certain parts of the river consecutively.[2] While the precipitation rate in the southern region of China has decreased in the last few months due to the negative effect of the heat waves, frequent rainfall was observed in the north and northeast regions, and as a result, floods and floodings have occurred. Drought and floods are of great importance regarding China’s food security. As Beijing became concerned about water and food safety, they went for a great decrease in hydroelectric production. This situation has led to power outages and has increased the problems of the country regarding energy security.

The issue of food safety in China has been regarded as a critical priority for thousands of years by the rulers of the country. China, led by Xi Jinping, has taken steps in this direction in recent years by closely associating food security with national security. In an international environment where there are tensions between China and the United States (USA), as well as various conflicts, the country’s food security is as important as its energy and economic security. The statement made by the President of China Jinping in April 2021 that “food security is an important basis for national security” shows that this issue is important for Beijing.[3]

Moreover, the addition of grain and food safety issues to the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) once again reveals the importance given to food safety, as problems may occur in food production due to the recent drought and floods. Within the scope of this plan, China is expected to produce more than 650 million tons of grain every year.[4]

After the emergence of Covid-19 pandemic, China’s food insecurity concerns have also increased. In addition, it has brought along problems such as power cuts in the national policy, and an increase in vegetable and food costs in the winter season of 2021. As a result of the Russia-Ukraine War, problems around the supply of grain and corn also emerged. In addition, droughts and climate changes have affected China as well as many other states. The Beijing administration also announced an emergency budget of 10 billion Renminbi to combat the drought in the city of Sichuan and the Yangtze River.[5] This reveals the severity of the situation.

China is estimated to have 2.2 million hectares of agricultural land, and the negative impact of droughts on these lands is reflected in more than 900 million citizens in 17 different cities.[6] Therefore, the continuation of heat waves points to a troubled future in terms of China’s food and energy security.

It is noteworthy to mention the importance of YRB for this. This basin is responsible for almost half of the grain production in the country. The question of how the continuation of the drought in this basin will affect grain production causes serious concerns in the country. Apart from this, the energy potential of the basin is significant as well. Within the scope of its last development plan, the Beijing administration has started to ditch coal for renewable energy sources such as hydroelectricity and wind to meet its energy needs. However, the city of Sichuan and YRB in general is one of the important hydroelectric power plants in China, providing approximately 80% of the province’s electricity.[7]

The province delivers some of this electricity to Zhejiang and Jiangsu, which are industrial power centers. However, nearly half of the reservoirs in Sichuan have dried up due to the drought.[8] This has led the Sichuan province administration to make power cuts in several cities and to receive electricity from other regions in the country. State Grid Corporation of China, a state-owned electricity company, declared they would supply electricity to Sichuan regarding this case. Factories operating in Sichuan also had to shrink their businesses or temporarily close them to ensure household electricity use. It can be said that the effects of the drought will continue for a while due to the low precipitation rates and the low water levels of the reserves in Sichuan.

Droughts and reduced water levels in parts and several tributaries of the Yangtze River also affect local markets in the region. Because the decrease in the local production level of fresh fruits and vegetables indicates that food must be transported to these regions from distant cities. Thus, the products coming from other regions will rot on the road altogether, or there will be higher rates of rotting within the amount of product. In addition, generally, these concerns remain at the local level and can be resolved in some way within the country.

Although this situation, which emerged due to droughts, is not yet large enough to affect global markets, the prolonged effects of the Russia-Ukraine War and the pandemic may change this situation. Because of the war, the supply of products such as corn and grain has decreased in the global markets. If this situation persists along with the drought, both China and the world will have difficult times.

Although the birth rate in China is low, about a quarter of the total amount of food consumed needs to be imported due to the large population size. For this reason, China is taking steps to improve food security and sustainable food supply by increasing its imports and making purchases in other countries/regions.

If the effect of such droughts and floods on the country’s food production continues or intensifies, China’s overseas initiatives such as foreign land acquisition or land leasing will also increase. In this context, China’s success in the agricultural sector is important not only for the food security of the country but also for the food supply and security of the world. Because, if China increases imports from international markets, this will reduce the world’s supply and may lead to an increase in food prices. Furthermore, the reduction in the international food supply and the increase in food prices are evident by the fact that China continues to stockpile food. Covering about 23% of the world’s population and 7% of the arable land in the world, China’s policies to ensure and maintain food security are significant in terms of increasing self-sufficiency and having lesser effects on the world. At this point, it can be seen that China is at the heart of the global food security problem.

China is trying to diversify its supply markets to not be dependent on a few countries, along with its efforts on ensuring sustainable food supply and increasing the supply of this field. Within the scope of the Belt-Road Project announced in 2013, more than one hundred agricultural cooperation agreements were signed to import food from many regions such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Beijing leased or purchased agricultural lands from many states such as Pakistan, Egypt, Tanzania, and Uganda through the Belt-Road Project. Beijing is trying to improve its food supply chains this way.

Lastly, agricultural activities and production are likely to be severely affected by droughts in China. Food inflation that is observed for the last two years, which started with the Covid-19 pandemic and was followed by the Russia-Ukraine War, seems to be prolonged adding up the effect of high input costs. Whether it be drought or floods, their hazard to agriculture is a vital concern for policymakers. A decrease in harvest may result in increased imports. This may affect global markets shortly.

The issue of food security has become more prominent as summer 2022 was dry in many regions and countries such as the US, the European Union (EU), and China. This summer has been one of the hottest and driest summers ever in the US and in the EU. Therefore, these countries are as concerned about food as China. This situation is likely to affect the whole world together with China. It is also likely that food safety concerns will continue to be a priority issue for China in the upcoming months and years.


[1] Genevieve Donnellon-May, “How China Is Responding to Its Water Woes”, The Diplomat, https://thediplomat.com/2022/09/how-china-is-responding-to-its-water-woes/, (Date of Accession: 13.10.2022).

[2] “China’s Drought Impacts over 900 mn People; Threatens Food, Energy Security”, Business-Standard, https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/china-s-drought-impacts-over-900-mn-people-threatens-food-energy-security-122100100218_1.html, (Date of Accession: 13.10.2022).

[3] May-Wang, op. cit.

[4] “La Chine vise une production céréalière de 700 million de tonnes d ‘ici 2025”, CGTN, https://francais.cgtn.com/n/BfJIA-EA-DIA/FFDJEA/index.html, (Date of Accession: 13.10.2022).

[5] “China’s Summer Struggle: Drought, Food Inflation, And Shortages”, SP Global, https://www.spglobal.com/ratings/en/research/articles/220831-china-s-s-summer-struggle-drought-food-inflation-and-shortages-12488611, (Date of Accession: 13.10.2022).

[6] May-Wang, op. cit.

[7] “China’s Drought Impacts…”, op. cit.

[8] Ibid.

Göktuğ ÇALIŞKAN
Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt Üniversitesi Siyaset Bilimi ve Kamu Yönetimi bölümünde lisans eğitimi alan Göktuğ ÇALIŞKAN, aynı süreçte çift ana dal programı kapsamında üniversitenin Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi’nde yer alan Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde de eğitim görmüştür. 2017 yılında lisans mezuniyetini tamamladıktan sonra Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde yüksek lisans programına başlayan Çalışkan, bu programı 2020 yılında başarı ile tamamlamıştır. 2018 yılında ise çift ana dal programı kapsamında eğitim gördüğü Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünden mezun olmuştur. Millî Eğitim Bakanlığı (MEB) bursu kapsamında 2017 yılı YLSY programını kazanarak halen Fransa’da dil eğitimi alan Göktuğ Çalışkan aynı zamanda Erciyes Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi son sınıf öğrencisidir. YLSY programı kapsamında Fas'ta Uluslararası Rabat Üniversitesinde Yönetişim ve Uluslararası İstihbarat alanında 2. yüksek lisansını yapmakta olan Çalışkan, Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası Ilişkiler bölümünde doktorasına başlamıştır. Iyi derecede İngilizce ve Fransızca bilmektedir.