China says threats to harvests grow

BEIJING Fri Nov 9, 2012 7:12am EST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's food security is under greater threat as its agriculture faces growing land, water and labor shortages over the next decade, the country's agriculture minister said on Friday.

This year is expected to be China's ninth consecutive year of rising grain output, but experts have warned it might struggle to continue improving yields, despite a campaign aimed at consolidating, mechanizing and commercializing its farms.

"The next five to 10 years are a key period for the development of China's agriculture sector - with production factors like land, water and labor getting tighter," said Han Changfu at a session of the ruling Communist Party congress in Beijing.

"Agricultural production is facing greater risks - natural risks, market risks, security risks - and it is entering a period of high investment, high costs and high prices."

Han said China continued to expect bumper harvests this year despite a global decline in agricultural production.

Soaring food demand from an increasingly prosperous population has piled the pressure on China's pastures, but growing rates of urbanization and the encroachment of industrial projects on precious farmland have also added to the problems.

Han said China would continue to press for the aggregation and mechanization of the farms in order to stave off the problems caused by decreasing acreage and the declining rural workforce.

"Beijing will breed a new type of agricultural player and develop large-scale mechanized farming," he said.

In a speech at the same session, China's land and resources minister Xu Shaoshi said the country plans to restrict the amount of new land being taken over by industry, and would also seek to avoid encroaching upon farmland.

(Reporting by David Stanway and Niu Shuping, editing by William Hardy)

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