China grain output must stay stable amid coronavirus outbreak, provinces told

FILE PHOTO: A terraced rice paddy field is seen after rain in Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan province, China March 19, 2019. Picture taken 19, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING (Reuters) - China must not let grain output decline this year, a government working group said on Tuesday, amid worries that measures to contain the ongoing coronavirus outbreak could hurt food security in the world’s most populous country.

Just weeks away from the start of spring planting, the central government’s work group on managing the coronavirus ordered provinces to mobilise farmers and guarantee that planted acreage and grain output remain stable.

A lockdown on the movement of people to contain the spread of the coronavirus has raised fears that farmers will be unable to plough their fields and sow crops.

Hubei province, the virus epicentre with the strictest lockdown, produced 9% of China’s rice crop in 2019.

In a statement posted on the government’s website, the group also said that regions with good growing conditions should restore double-cropping of rice, reversing recent years’ policy that had sought to target higher quality grain over quantity.

It also said they should expand the planted acreage of early crop rice and reduce the amount of land left fallow.

It urged officials to help farmers facing a labour shortage to avoid the risk of arable land being left untended.

Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton, editing by Louise Heavens and Nick Macfie