Time to cherish precious food security

Editor's Note: The passing away of Yuan Longping, the "father of hybrid rice", on Saturday reminds us of his great contribution to not only China's but also global food security. Fan Shenggen, chair professor at China Agricultural University and former director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, shares his views with China Daily's Sun Xiaoyu on how to better safeguard food security and reduce poverty. Excerpts follow:


Q1: How do you evaluate the achievements of Yuan Longping, and his role in ensuring China's food security and contribution to the global fight against starvation?

A: Professor Yuan is one of the most important agricultural scientists who was committed his whole life to developing high-yielding hybrid rice. Due to his and many other scientists' work, China's rice production has increased significantly, helping maintain China's self-sufficiency in cereals.

Due to the increased rice yield (production per unit of land), land area can be saved for other uses, water and carbon emissions per unit of rice output has also been reduced. Farmers benefited from more rice output and consumers benefited from lower rice price. Professor Yuan's hybrid rice production technology has also been adopted in Africa and South Asia, contributing to global food security and poverty reduction.

Q2: The passing away of Yuan has reminded people of the painful chapter of starvation in history. Why did China make food security and poverty alleviation as top priorities?

A: Eliminating hunger means improvement of basic human rights, access to income, access to food, access to shelter.

All of these are basic human rights we need to tackle. So this is a great achievement by eliminating poverty, hunger and reducing malnutrition.

And also, equally important, poverty elimination is a foundation of modernizing a country, modernizing society and modernizing the economy.

Q3: China has eradicated absolute poverty, and realized one of the goals of reform and opening-up. What poverty alleviation experiences can China share with the rest of the world, and how significant are they for global poverty alleviation?

A: There are several important lessons we can learn from Chinese experience, and the number one is starting from agriculture.

So agricultural land reform, which helped to improve farmers' income, everybody's income, helped them to improve access to food.

So this is a great lesson every country should really know, to start from agriculture. Obviously, the farmers had incentives to produce more and sell the products to the market.

When they have enough to eat, the next question is how they can increase their income.

The migration of the non-farming workers after the initial agricultural reform became very critical. Later on, all economic growth helped its large scale poverty reduction.

Then the question is, how to make poverty reduction very precise to target villages, to target individual households, even individuals.

So precision poverty alleviation, after 2000, even more so in the last 10 years, has been very critical to make sure that nobody is left behind.

Q4: How can China combine the measures to increase agricultural income and ensure food security with those for consolidating the achievements of poverty alleviation?

A: Agriculture needs to be further reshaped or restructured to make sure that in rural areas, the rural residents continue to raise income through agricultural and rural development.

I want to bring another dimension called a food system approach.

The food system includes all the activities, actors or players, from inputs, technologies, production, harvesting, processing, retailing, wholesaling to household and consumption, to every element of that system.

And then food production involves massive externalities. It has an impact on natural resources that can be changed on our health.

All this together forms a food system approach. We need to use a food system approach to make sure that everybody in the food system will benefit from the changes.

And next phase of the reform should be to use a food system approach to make sure that everybody in rural areas benefits from the food system transformation.

Q5: China has vowed to achieve rural revitalization. But the rural areas are facing problems of a shrinking population and aging, etc. What measures should China take to achieve the goal step by step?

A: Right now, many challenges or problems we face in rural areas are coming from the food system, such as the overuse of water and overuse of fertilizer and pesticides, and environmental pollution and so on. Most of these came from our food production and agricultural production.

To solve these, we need to shift or reshape our food system to make sure that the rural environment is protected.

So green mountain or blue water in rural areas, and the food system transformation can help the youth to return to rural areas, to engage efficient business enterprises, they can make money as much as the residents in the cities.

And equally important is employment. All the food system enterprises can help get employment large numbers of returned rural residents to make sure that the income is as high as urban residents.

I think the food system can help to address some environmental challenges and help to improve food quality for everybody, increase income of the enterprises as well as the employees of these enterprises.

I want to emphasize one more thing. Carbon neutrality. I think the food system and agriculture must embrace the 2060 carbon neutrality pledge. The food system and agriculture can also be reshaped or reformed to contribute to carbon neutrality

So when you eat, don't just look at the impact on our nutrition and health, but also on our environment.

If we reduce food waste and loss, it will also help reduce carbon emissions, reduce water use, land use and help achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.