News / Asia

Wealthier China Helps Keep Food Prices High

Residents in prospering nation eating more meat

Don't expect food prices to come down much in 2012, experts say.

While the reasons behind today's high food prices are complex, one nation - China - has an oversized influence on global markets. China's three decades of breathtaking economic growth has fueled a remarkable rise in prosperity in the world's most populous nation.

But what's been good news for China is bad news for many others connected to the global food economy.

Rising prosperity, changing diets

Experts say the first thing people do when they rise out of poverty is improve their diets. That means more meat and animal products.

A few decades ago, meat was a luxury in China. Food was strictly rationed until the 1980s.

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences economist Zhu Ling recalls eating meat only once or twice a month when she was growing up. “Only during Chinese New Year could we get 250 grams of pork each," she says.

But that changed after Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the 1980s, which set the stage for China’s miraculous growth.  

“This was an era of change and improvement in food consumption," she says. "Basically, apart from vegans, everybody, every family has seen an increase in meat and seafood consumption.”

Chinese pork consumption has more than doubled since 1990, and chicken consumption is up five-fold.

Feeding animals that feed people

Livestock need to eat, too. Feeding those rapidly growing herds and flocks has quickly made China the world’s most voracious consumer of soybeans.

“Ten, 15 years ago China imported virtually no soybeans at all," says to U.S. Department of Agriculture analyst Hui Jiang. "Since the mid-1990s, Chinese imports have grown drastically, to today dominating over half of the total world trade in soybeans.”

The impacts are felt around the world.

“This has been positive for American agriculture,” says Maryland farmer Dave Burrier.

Soybean grower have seen the price of their crop nearly double since Beijing entered the market. Last year, China imported one out of every four soybeans grown in the United States.

Increasing competition

Demand for soybeans has also helped fuel economic growth in Brazil and Argentina, which now compete with the U.S. for the world soy market.

China's tremendous demand helps push prices up - and not just for soybeans.

All crops need land to grow on. “That puts competition on crops like corn and other crops as well," says Jiang. And competition for farmland is also helping increase the cost of food.

And prices are expected to stay high in part because China is not done growing. Its expanding middle class is projected to more than triple this decade, "and its food expenditure is expected to double in the same timeframe," Jiang says.

"Its impact on demand cannot be overstated,” she adds.

Growth in the developing world

But it’s not just China. People in India, Brazil and other emerging economies are also growing wealthier and eating better. Plus, the world is expected to add another two billion people by mid-century.

That’s good news for farmers like Burrier. “I really think that because of the population increase that we’ll continue to have tremendous demand,” he says.

But for consumers, food prices will likely remain high until supply can catch up with that tremendous demand.

You May Like

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid