China’s food insecurity and (super)natural disasters

With so much focus on Covid-19, the upcoming U.S. election, and trade war with China, CNN last week reported on an emerging crisis in China that has received little coverage—food insecurity.

Floods destroy croplands

Since early June, China has been hit with massive flooding from several rounds of heavy rain, resulting in mudslides, destruction of agricultural lands and crops, and forced evacuation of more than 38 million people according to Nikkei Asian Review. A video simulation of the Three Gorges Dam collapsing from these floods has already gone viral.

The dam is located in Hubei province with 400 million people living downstream, including in Wuhan and Shanghai. Currently many cities are under water, and while in some cities the water is receding, the crops have nonetheless been destroyed, posing a threat to China’s food security in the coming winter.

In southern China, the broader Yangtze River basin which includes Poyang Lake is known as “the land of fish and rice” and accounts for 70% of the country’s rice production. It was flooded last month, destroying thousands of acres of farmland.

This, combined with 13 million more acres of destroyed croplands in China—about the size of West Virginia—is estimated to be a direct economic loss of $21 billion according to China’s Ministry of Emergency Management.

However, the cost may be more, as the amount of damaged cropland has roughly doubled since July’s figures, and the damage estimates don’t include the potential loss of wheat, corn or other crops that could be threatened should the flooding spread.

Reduced crop feed for livestock

Destruction of crops also negatively impacts China’s food supply chain as there is less feed for livestock and poultry. A concerned President Xi recently visited northeastern Jilin province which produced more than 40% of the country’s soybeans and a third of its corn—the latter used to feed China’s pig herds—at a time when it is trying to repopulate from the African swine fever outbreak.

Swine fever reduce pig supply

China has almost 50% of the world’s pig supply at 440 million, but it has culled more than 300 million pigs last year due to the African swine fever outbreak.  Now, floods in southern China is causing a new outbreak which poses a setback to replenishing the pig supply.

Earthquake and Three Gorges Dam

In addition to continuous floods since June, recurring earthquakes in the range of 4.5 to 5.3 over the past month in China may threaten the Three Gorges Dam’s security. These earthquakes have been felt from Sichuan to Tibet to Xinjiang, and the dam already sits on two major fault lines — Jiuwanxi and Zigui-Badong.

Geologists fear that rapid changes in water pressure when the reservoir levels are changed during flood season could activate already shaky ground and trigger an earthquake, a phenomenon known as reservoir-induced seismicity.  This pressure from the flood water, combined with earthquake activities west of the Dam, pose an increasing risk to the Dam’s structural integrity.  Should the Dam collapse as the video simulation portrayed, it would flood and destroy China’s remaining croplands.

Locusts ravage croplands

Swarms of yellow-spine bamboo locusts have now entered the southwestern province of Yunnan and is devouring crops and livelihoods.

Bubonic plague

In the northeastern province of Inner Mongolia, Chinese authorities have sealed off two villages due to an outbreak of the Bubonic plague. The neighboring country of Mongolia was also investigating a suspected case of bubonic plague linked to the consumption of marmot meat, a rodent species that spreads the disease.   Authorities in both cities have warned that human-to-human transmission is possible, and the rest of the world would need to closely monitor this while continuing to manage Covid-19.

Sino-U.S. trade war and grain imports

 With the reduction of domestic crops and grain stockpile, China is increasing its purchase of grains from the U.S. and other countries.  The United States exported more than 9 million tons of soybeans, roughly 100,000 tons of wheat, and nearly 65,000 tons of corn to China in the first half of 2020, and in July China purchased another 1.76 million tons of corn.  However, uncertainties caused by deteriorating Sino-U.S. relations, and suspension of food exports from some countries due to the pandemic, could create more risks for food security in China.

China is clearly reeling from simultaneous natural disasters that are threatening its food and health security.  However, when combined with various strange phenomena of Beijing sky turning black during the opening of the Two Sessions, lightning from the sky striking a high-rise building in Shenyang, fierce cyclones/tornadoes and coronavirus-shaped hailstorms, these disasters seem to have entered the supernatural realm.

Whether these phenomena are viewed as acts of God, directed energy weapon or strange coincidence is moot, but the Chinese people could probably use some prayers and support right now because what happens in the Middle Kingdom will  likely reverberate throughout the rest of the world.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a US-based foreign policy analyst specializing in China-Mediterranean relations. She has extensive US government experience working on national security issues and was a CBRN research consultant for Jane's Information Group.