Food for thought amid China’s economic crisis

Heatwaves and drought threaten food shortages as the challenges increase for Beijing’s central government

China is facing a myriad of economic risks. The latest is to food security after a record-breaking heatwave for more than 70 days threatens to decimate crops and livestock. 

Amid the climate change carnage, severe drought has triggered power cuts across vast regions of the country, closing factories and offices. The lights have even been switched off in major cities such as Shanghai.

“What’s happening this summer is going to be the base case for what a climate emergency looks like, and we’re likely to see a lot of policy research … and a lot more attention around water availability,” Even Pay, an agricultural analyst at research group Trivium China, pointed out.

Already farmers cultivating vegetables or tending to livestock, such as cattle and pigs, have been badly “hit” by the lack of rain. 

“The kinds of fresh vegetables that supply the local markets where people buy their produce each day – that’s the category that is least likely to be in a major irrigation area, and which is not likely to be prioritized in a national push to protect grain and oil feeds,” Pay said as reported by The Guardian, the London-based media group.

“I [also] think we’re going to start to see reports of livestock farmers getting hit,” she added, which would impact the vital pork sector.

Quick bites:

  • Temperatures across vast swathes of China have soared to 45 degrees Celsius or 113 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Water levels in the nation’s longest river, the Yangtze, are at a record low.
  • In Chongqing, which has a population of 31 million people, 66 rivers and 25 reservoirs have run out of water.
  • Henan, the country’s largest grain producer, has been forced to inject 130 million yuan, or US$19 million, to support drought relief. 

Like the major Chinese rivers scorched by the heatwave, growth has been reduced to a trickle.

What was said: “As the frequency of extreme weather events looks set to grow, the future could be even bleaker,” Bernice Lee, of the Chatham House sustainability accelerator in London, said earlier this week.

Delve deeper: “Factories grinding to a halt, crops devastated, cargo ships forced to carry smaller loads and millions facing a risk of blackouts — these are just some of the drastic consequences of record low river levels during droughts that are gripping the US, Europe and now China,” the Financial Times reported earlier this week.

Big picture: Yet this comes at a time when the world’s second-largest economy has been battered by rising unemployment, a property meltdown and a “crisis of confidence” in the banking sector

Between the lines: Like the major Chinese rivers scorched by the heatwave, growth has been reduced to a trickle.

Major challenges: Last month, the jobless rate for people aged 16 to 24 surged to a record 19.9%. “[Boosting] employment still faces big challenges,” Vice-Minister Li Zhong, of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, told a media briefing in Beijing this week. 

China Factor comment: Climate catastrophes and economic mayhem are not just President Xi Jinping’s only problems heading into the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party later this year. His bungled handling of the Taiwan Question has left Beijing isolated as geopolitical tension rises in the Indo-Pacific.