China suffers flooding and emerging food safety concerns

7 Sep 2023 by The Water Diplomat

Since the end of July, and for just a few days, China experienced severe flooding caused by the aftermath of typhoon Doksuri. Flooding took place in the grain-growing region of northeast China whereby flood waters inundated farmland. The floods have resulted in a double catastrophe for the country, which is concerned not just about the damage from the water but also about its food security. The floods killed 33 people, displacing more than a million in the suburbs of Beijing and the surrounding Hebei province, and leaving many more missing.

More than 18,000 people were evacuated from Shulan, according to the official Xinhua news agency. There was also anger and protest. Villagers say they were sacrificed to save the capital. According to media reports, the Hebei authorities have opened sluices and weirs in seven flood control zones. It was particularly in Heibei that anger mounted, as several towns in the province were inundated by several meters of water, in an effort to save Beijing from flooding. Secondly, there was the agricultural disaster. In neighboring Heilongjiang province, the rivers that irrigate its fertile farmland overflowed their banks, submerging rice fields, destroying vegetable greenhouses and damaging factories, local media reported. In effect, China's breadbasket was flooded. The three most northeastern provinces (Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning) produce over a fifth of the country's cereal output, thanks to the region's fertile black soil. Soya, corn and rice are the main crops grown here.

At the beginning of August, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs warned of the heavy rains and the serious impact they would have on Chinese agricultural production. Concern about disease outbreaks and infestations, it said. And it wasn't just concern. A few days later, on August 16, China called for more measures to protect its crops. Extreme weather conditions could lead to serious infestations of pests targeting cotton, corn and soybeans in certain regions, the ministry said. For example, the northern armyworm was found on 9,066.7 hectares in the central banner of Keyou, in Inner Mongolia's Xingan League, of which an area of 1,333 hectares was severely affected, according to the authorities.

Prices on the rise 

Extensive damage has been recorded to rice and corn crops in cereal-producing provinces, threatening food prices. The situation is becoming critical, especially as these floods are taking place against a tense global backdrop, between the end of Indian white rice exports last July and Russia's suspension of the agreement on Ukrainian grain in the Black Sea. Initial estimates suggest that 4 to 5 million metric tons of corn, or 2% of the country's reserves, have been affected by the waters. Corn prices on the local Dalian commodities market fell by 1.4% to 2,579 yuan per tonne (346 euros). Rice production could also be affected by the floods. China's corn imports are expected to reach a new record of 23 million tonnes in 2023-2024, compared with 18 million tonnes a year earlier, according to the US Department of Agriculture. However, China should not need to import large quantities of rice, as the country is self-sufficient in this sector.