The changing dietary habits of the Chinese could affect the country's food self-sufficiency, particularly for cereals.
The world's leading wheat and rice producer, China imports and exports few grains, using harvests and stocks to meet domestic demand.
However, this could change with the evolving dietary habits of the Chinese, who are eating increasingly more meat and eggs and less rice. It takes seven to eight kilos of cereal, however, to produce one kilo of meat.
A large swath of agricultural land must be mobilized in order to respond to this change in domestic demand. However, it seems difficult for China's agricultural sector to feed a country with 20 percent of the world’s population when it has only 7 percent of the arable land in the world. Moreover, increasing urbanization and industrialization in China have led to a gradual loss of farmland.
Although they are reluctant to resort to imports, Chinese decision makers might be forced to take this route. This spring, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said: "We must improve our methods for adjusting reserves and (...) increase imports for major, widely consumed products that are not available in sufficient quantities on the domestic market."
For the time being, although the gap between cereal supply and demand is closing, China has large stocks, which have enabled it to remain relatively unaffected by increasing agricultural prices. However, this situation could end and China, like the rest of the international community, could face more volatile prices as global stocks are depleted and as China, the world's most populous country, increasingly meets its food needs on the global market.