• 04 October, 2022
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China is Coming For Your Land: Farmland

Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd) Fri, 23 Sep 2022   |  Reading Time: 6 minutes

Drought has plunged water levels to the lowest in China in decades. The temperatures have also soared to record levels, and hydropower plants failed to meet the sharp rise in power demand. However, this is just a glimpse of the worst things to come. Floods, droughts, and record-breaking temperatures would have a catastrophic effect on the Chinese food supply. The autumn harvest, which supplies 75% of China’s grain, will be devastated.

The Ukraine war that has caused global shortages of sugar, cooking oil, wheat, and just about everything has further increased the anxiety of the Chinese leadership. So, what are the Chinese up to? How are they planning to provide food security to the Chinese population? What adverse effects would this have on the other nations, especially the small and vulnerable African and Asian countries?

The Reality Is Staring At Chinese Leadership

China has 22 percent of the world’s population with just 7 percent of the arable land. 27 percent of China is covered in desert. The desert has crept up to within 44 miles from Beijing. The Gobi Desert crawls south at a pace of 2 miles per year. All of China could be a big desert in times to come. If indications are to be believed, then China is heading for a severe food shortage and, eventually, a major famine.

In the past 70 years, China’s average ground temperatures have risen much sharper than the global average. Since 1951, the rise has been 0.26 degrees per decade compared to the worldwide average of 0.15 degrees. There is no sign of abatement, and as per Chinese officials, the temperatures will remain significantly higher in the foreseeable future.

In the last decade, China undertook rapid urbanization. The mindless industrial growth displaced agricultural workers and encroached onto farmland. Rapid urban growth also significantly polluted the country’s arable land and water resources. Excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers further contributed to its extreme water and soil pollution. Raising hogs is also an environmentally dangerous practice. Hog farms emit toxic chemicals making land all around barren. By 2018, 60 percent of groundwater was polluted, and 15.5 percent of groundwater was unsuitable for use. Over 20 percent of agricultural land, or about 65 million acres, had contaminated soil.

The Chinese had set an urbanization red line at a minimum of 296.5 million acres of arable land. Though they claim that the redline has not been crossed; however, in the last decade, the Chinese arable land shrank by six percent. The local governments, in their zeal to please central leadership, pushed farm workers to urban centers. The Chinese population in urban areas swelled from 37.09 percent in 2001 to 64.72 percent in 2021, putting extreme pressure on the ageing rural population.

Courtesy: US-China Economic and Security Review Commission

The 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is approaching. Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to live in “Disney Land.” He harps about relying on domestic production, which experts say is impossible to achieve. His desperation is further seen in the repeated call for “Operation Clean Plate,” indicating enduring fear of food shortages.

Dependency

Now, these fears are not unfounded. China gobbles up over 60 percent of the global soybean exports. China’s domestic production of soybean is mere 15 percentPork is the staple meat in China. The Chinese pork industry also requires an extraordinary amount of grain imports to feed hog herds. In 2019, China imported just 5 mmt of corn from the United States to feed hogs. The numbers jumped six times to 30 mmt by 2021. The impact of the import dependency is seen in the variation in the pork price. In 2018 the per pound price of pork was $1.5; however, by 2020, it had skyrocketed to $3.5 per pound.

The Parallel Game

While Xi Jinping’s public show of reliance on domestic production continues, the government machinery, collaborating with State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), is gobbling up farmland across the world through mergers and acquisitions (M&A) to satiate the Chinese appetite.

COFCO Group is a Chinese state food processing giant. Since 2014, it has acquired several multinational grain corporations and, along with that, huge parcels of land. The company owns a large number of ports, terminals, and storage facilities in core grain-producing countries across the world. Today COFCO has an annual overseas operation scale of over 100 million tons. It is the largest exporter of grain and oil from Argentina and soybeans from Brazil. It is one of the top exporters from the Black Sea region.

Following are the major Chinese acquisitions:

  • COFCO:
    • Chilean winery Bisquertt Vineyard before 2014
    • French wine producer Chateau de Viaud before 2014
    • 80% stake in Australian Tully Sugar in 2014
    • Grain trading division of UK’s Criddle & Co. 2015-16
    • United Shipping Agency in Romania in 2016
    • Dutch grain trader Nidera in 2016
  • Considerable investments (over 3 million hectares of land) in war-torn Ukraine’s food processing industry
  • Shuanghui International Holdings bought the American meat producer Smithfield Foods
  • ChemChina purchased Swiss agrochemical company Syngenta

Other noteworthy Chinese regional state-owned enterprises that went on buying sprees abroad since the late 90s are Chongqing Grain Group, Heilongjiang Beidahuang Nongken Group Corporation, and Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. As per Deborah Brautigam, writer of the book “Will Africa Feed China?”, these companies had mixed results of success and failure due to their ad hoc methods.

The Chinese Strategic Investments 

An unknown angle of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the acquisition of farmland. China treats these acquisitions as strategic investments. There are 64 primary active or inactive participants in BRI; however, the Chinese entities have majorly invested in 48 countries (93.89%), and they have acquired farmland only in 10 countries. Four countries, Bahrain, Thailand, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, prohibit investment in arable land. The Chinese SOEs invest in countries with high irrigation rates and low levels of development.

As per China’s Ministry of Agriculture, 1300 Chinese companies had invested over $26 billion in agricultural land by 2016. The numbers must be much higher today. Between 2008 to 2016, China’s investment in arable land in BRI countries rose sharply, from 473,800 hectares to 1,300,900 hectares. In this period, Russia received the highest annual increment in farmland investment, 255,000 hectares, followed by Tajikistan (158,300 hectares) and Cambodia (131,100 hectares).

Chinese Land Holding In Various Countries

China hasn’t spared the all-powerful United States. The Chinese ownership of arable land in the U.S. zoomed from 13,720 acres in 2010 to 352,140 acres in 2020. The most controversial acquisition was 370 acres of farmland in Grand Fork in 2021 by the Chinese Fufeng Group. Fufeng Group has ties to the Chinese government and the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The Agri park they acquired is located about 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base, which houses some of the top intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities of the U.S. Air Force. Under the guise of an Agri park, the acquisition seems to be of dual use in nature. Off late, the United States has started taking notice of these threats. In September 2022, California’s legislature passed a bill banning foreign entities from buying agricultural land.

Today China holds farmland and commodity investment in various countries. Some of the examples are:

  • Indonesia – Palm Oil
  • Italy – Olive Oil
  • Russia – Rapeseed and Sunflower Seed Oil
  • South America & Europe – Soybeans
  • New Zealand – Dairy
  • Australia – Beef
  • United States – Pork and Alfalfa
  • Ukraine – Corn
  • Vietnam – Cassava
  • Jamaica – Sugar
  • Cambodia – Sugar

The Indian Perspective 

From the preceding, it is amply clear that China is on a farmland-buying spree to meet its present and future food requirements. Xi Jinping’s annual call that China would improve the Chinese farmland by 25 percent will remain an unfulfilled dream. An unfulfilled dream makes China a desperate and dangerous nation.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, during their tenure, had rolled out the red carpet for Chinese agri investments. During the UPA tenure, the Chinese investors visited Uttar PradeshGujaratMaharashtraTamil Nadu, etc., to acquire farmland. Haryana had gone all out to woo Chinese companies to buy farmland in their state. They had offered them thousands of acres of land for the purpose. Before deals could fructify, the UPA government went out of power.

After the initial bonhomie with China, the present National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government got a rude shock in 2017 when China announced a long-term plan for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of which passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). India boycotted the May 2017 BRI meet in China and escaped the associated land grab. Despite this fact, China continues to list India as a BRI participant.

India is a strong player in the world food chain. As per the World Bank, 52.3 percent of Indian land is arable, placing it in the 5th spot in the world. The total available cropland in India is 169,463,000 hectares, putting it in the number one position. These numbers make India a mouth-watering proposition for China.

While India struggles to meet the energy requirements, China has energy and food security challenges. It is incumbent upon the Indian authorities to learn from the Chinese mistakes rather than make their own. They also need to learn from the Chinese good practices that make China produce three times the Indian output with much lesser arable land at their disposal.

In the coming years, the worst affected would be the small and vulnerable nations in Africa and Asia with arable land and corrupt leaders. As China’s arable land shrinks, Chinese SOEs would export food grain homewards, creating a famine-like situation in those countries. Armed conflicts are also not ruled out. This would be the dawn of a new kind of colonization. These nations have to safeguard their land from China. Whether you like it or not, China is coming for your farmland.

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References:

  • uscc.gov/sites/default/files/2022-05/Chinas_Interests_in_U.S._Agriculture.pdf
  • ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/88572/eib-192.pdf
  • mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/1/97/htm
  • asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/The-Big-Story/Farming-out-China-s-overseas-food-security-quest
  • Will Africa Feed China? by Deborah Brautigam

Reference for image – china in africa – Bing images

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Author
A veteran of the Indian Navy, Cdr Dhawan served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations.

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POST COMMENTS (28)

Deovrat Pagay

Sep 26, 2022
China’s expansionist ideas are the root cause of the economic crisis faced by Sri Lanka. Many more countries will fall prey to the Chinese tactics. China’s topography is changing…for the worst which will have a significant impact on her economic and strategic stature. Sandeep’s articles are a bolt out of the blue!!

Atul Dewan

Sep 26, 2022
Your articles always have a fresh perspective and new angles, this one is no different. Thank you for unfolding the possibilities of Chinese compulsions to colonise the poor and vulnerable in Africa and Asia.

Ashish Popli

Sep 26, 2022
Yet another researched article from Cdr Dhawan. Indeed a new facet of Chinese land grab juggernaut. If figs are correct, definitely a wake up call for many nations. With one child policy in past decades, consequent ageing population, increasing desert and urbanisation...effects on local agri produce are evident. How china is securing it's agri needs by aquisition of farm land or stakes 8nbagri companies is definitely a cause for worry. My view, too many hydra heads opened by the Chinese and it'd be tough to control the direction and effect each of these heads will cause...with world opinion totally anti China.

Cdr Arvind Mathur, Retd.

Sep 25, 2022
Excellent review of China's policy of acquiring farmland through M&A in various countries and exporting to China itself to serve their food needs after having systematically destroyed their own farmlands. Greedy politicians and owners of companies go in for M&As without looking into the long term interes of their own country. India needs to guard against this and must put a policy in place against M&As in critical sectors. I hope someone in the government is thinking on the same line as Cdr Dhawan has articulated so well.

Umesh Shandilya

Sep 25, 2022
Not just well researched but an eye opener. One hopes that the semi educated Indian Political Class is aware of what the Learned Cdr. says.

Rakesh P

Sep 25, 2022
Lucid, in-depth and very unique.

Shaurya Shandilya

Sep 25, 2022
Hopefully, the Indian Govt already knows this. Great article, as always.

Raman Gupta

Sep 25, 2022
Excellent research and insights

B Raja

Sep 24, 2022
Scholarly work! The analysis is spot on!! The relevant statistics are an eye opener. While Indian laws adequately safeguard against procurement of agricultural/farmlands, the Chinese will leave no stone unturned to benefit from surrogate purchases. A cursory study unto the fishing industry in I dia will reveal the extent of inroads made by the Chinese.

GP Singh

Sep 24, 2022
Eye opener. Great !

K.M.Paul

Sep 24, 2022
Very informative. Genesis of Chinese eco-system, plans & motives- exposed clearly. The article will act as a valuable Caution to prospective countries, prone to victimisation by CHINA, in terms of ' Farm land grabbing '

Kuldeep

Sep 24, 2022
A timely warning to India on yet another dirty trick of Dragon. Great education on agri land status of world. Excellent research work makes the article "Don't miss" type. Enjoyed the reading of yet another excellent article from author.

Thiagarajan Narayanan

Sep 24, 2022
Very well articulated. The thought process of the author is very clear & brings out in a very lucid form about the imminent arable land grab strategy of China. In the coming decade, China is going to fall short of resources to support its population as well as industry needs. It would be scouting around the world to further it's interest & as brought out most of the African & South American are going to be vulnerable. Very well researched subject by the author.

Captain PK Misra

Sep 24, 2022
A very well researched and beautifully written article by Cdr Dhawan. All the best for future endeavours. Captain PK Misra

Wendell Bruges

Sep 24, 2022
An all-important topic that every country ignores. Kudos to you Commander for bringing out such in-depth exposé.

Atulya Dayal

Sep 24, 2022
Hi, nice insight into deep issues which may not be apparent for many world leaders to see and act accordingly. Pls put up similar analysis of weather, soil and environmental issues of India as well, for our own sleeping people to visualize and do something before it's too late here. Much appreciate your vast knowledge, effort and research in many aspects of China related issues. Take care....All the best.👍🇮🇳

Shalini K Dhingra

Sep 24, 2022
A fabulous,indepth and scarey read. Thanks Sandeep for putting together facts which make it easy to understand the imminent threat to our farmlands and perhaps beyond.

Romina

Sep 24, 2022
This is an eye opener article. Indian Govt must investigate how much land grab is done by China under the garb of investment.

Shaily rawat

Sep 24, 2022
... fantastically researched article ... I hope the powers be are listening to this and taking appropriate actions ... Also reversing any landgrabs that China has invested in India ... The Indian govt should squeeze our these investements tactically and give boost to our own homegrown ... ... With almost most of the initiatives of China coming a copper within home n internationally... Facing gude shortages and downfalls ... China becoming desperate will make it more reckless n dangerous to the world and the humanity .... Water food grains ... Superchips military initiatives CPEC OBOR ... ... And don't know how it'll take a turn with the current rumours of a coup floating around ... China needs to break up into its orginal state ... N kept under a right leash ... ... Good job done in this article ...

Anand Malik

Sep 24, 2022
The article is enlightening. The details put down are a confirmation of the in depth research on the subject. It’s so convincing. I hope the world wakes up and countries protect themselves from the Chinese threat. Indian government needs to, on a war footing, make technology and aid available to the Indian farmers in increasing the output from the farmlands to its best and make India the bread basket of the world.

Ramachandran Madathil

Sep 24, 2022
Excellent insight into the Chinese agenda. India too needs aggressive efforts to save soil and preserve its arable land. Large population that is predominantly vegetarian will definitely help . Fortunately even the so called 'minority' is adverse to hog meat. The American experience in North Carolina indicates that beef is no better either. Conservation of rivers and soil and of course warding off selfish designs of the dragon is the only chance we have

AMIT KHOSLA

Sep 24, 2022
A Very well researched article which covers the relevant points and facts on ground . In the coming years, the worst affected would be the small and vulnerable nations in Africa and Asia with arable land and corrupt leaders. These nations have to safeguard their land from China. Whether you like it or not, China is coming for your farmland.

Mayank

Sep 24, 2022
Such intricate details shows the amount of effort gone into writing this. An eye opening article.

Cdr Narendra Kulkarni

Sep 24, 2022
Excellent information & unknown to me. As usual, a very indepth study & well articulated write up

Narinder Pal Singh Hora

Sep 24, 2022
What an eye opener. One's appreciation leans towards issues at border, weapons, AI etc. It was tough to visualize, how absence of arable land for food security of a nation can even destroy the countries with mighty army and modern weapons. Thank you Sandeep for this article. I hope the top leadership of our country takes note of this and comes out with sufficient and appropriate safeguards in form of legislation or in other legal regulations

Dharam Rathore

Sep 24, 2022
Never thought about this , thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anupam

Sep 24, 2022
An interesting article. China always had strategic thoughts. So not at all alarming. But what can backfire is, will china have so much money to sustain, when most western firms are leaving Chinese shores. China in near future will have problems of cash liquidity. Too much investment in short term , in countries having no backing may put Chinese investment under stress. Same stress is being seen domestically within china as bank's and construction firms are going bust due to NPAs.

Gp Capt KK Reddy (Retd)

Sep 24, 2022
Cdr Dhawan, has through his very painstaking research brought out a thesis that is likely to threaten the very livelihood i.e. Agricultural which is the backbone of India. China by the many machinations and cleverly sugar coated candies has enticed the neighbourhood into submission in one form or the other. High time that this strategic plot of hegemonic state be exposed and shamed in the international community.

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