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China's grain output falls 5.8 pct in 2003
AFX News Limited, February 9, 2004 Monday
China's total grain production fell 5.8 pct to 430.65 mln tons last year, 26.4 mln tons less than the previous year.
Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the office of Central Financial Working Group, told a news conference on Monday that the fall in production was due to natural disasters, a reduction in planting areas and low morale of farmers.
Despite the poor performance, Chen said an additional 30 bln yuan earmarked for the agricultural sector this year would help improve farmers' incomes.
China's grain output has been short of demand for four consecutive years.
Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin was quoted in China Daily last December as saying that 2004 would be key to bringing the grain supply and demand situation into balance.
Grain production for 2004 will climb to 455 mln tons, with 100 mln hectares of farmland reserved for varying grain strains, Du told the China Daily.
Chen said the government would also increase subsidies for heavy agricultural machinery. The fall in output has sent prices soaring and fuelled concerns about their impact on inflation data.
November's consumer price index jumped to 3 pct, its highest level in six years, largely on the back of rising food prices.
Lester Brown, director of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute, told Chinese NGOs in November last year that sharp rises in food prices in China over the past few months could be the sign of a coming world food crisis brought on by global warming and increasingly scarce water supplies among major grain producers.
"When China turns to the world market for grain, it will need 30, 40, 50 mln tons, more than anyone else in the world imports," Brown said.
"They will first come to US markets, which is going to make a fascinating geo-political situation."
With a 103 bln usd trade surplus with the US in 2002, China has "enormous purchasing power" to buy US grain, which "could drive up prices by two times", according to Brown.
However, Chen said on Monday there was no need for concerns about rising inflation because overall inflation was still below 1996 levels.
"I think it is advisable for relevant authorities and departments to help uplift the prices of farm goods at a reasonable level [in order to increase farmers' incomes] as long as they can make arrangements for lower income rural dwellers," Chen said.
MGR Archive 9.2.2004
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Russia Rapan $ 700
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