For the past months the Peoples’ Republic of China has been subject to one after the other devastating shocks to its agriculture sector. A deadly outbreak of African Swine Fever that halved China’s huge pig herds in 2019, was followed by infestation from a plague of fall armyworms (FAW) which reached China in December, 2018 and now threaten China’s corn belt. Now the worst floods in some 60 years is wiping out major rice and other crops in central China along the Yangtze and other rivers. Food Security is one of six national priorities for national security. President Xi Jinping has just issued a call to citizens not to waste food or face penalties, a sign that the depth of the food security threat is far worse than thought.
While any of the several problems would be manageable in normal times, the combination of agriculture disasters combined with the economic consequences of the China outbreaks of coronavirus are presenting challenges that could well impact global food security in coming months.
At the end of 2018 the presence of a large infestation of dreaded fall armyworm was noted in southern China. In 2019 the devastation by the resilient fall armyworm (FAW) invasion caused destruction of more than 1 million hectares of farmland in China last year, damaging mainly corn and sugarcane crops. According to government news wires, so far in 2020 the fall armyworm infestation has already destroyed 1.07 million hectares in 24 provinces as of early August. Notably, the FAW infestation worked its way across Africa where it was first detected in 2016 to India and in 2018 to China.
Now as the plague moves north inside China, it threatens the heart of China’s northeastern region, including Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning provinces and the Inner Mongolia region, known as the grain basket of China, producing about half of the country’s corn on some 13 million hectares. On August 21, Chinese state media reported presence of the dreaded FAW in in Liaoning province in its northeastern cornbelt for the first time. The government has made fighting the pest a priority, however the insect is resistant to many pesticides and produces up to 3,000 eggs a season. The adults can travel up to 60 miles in a night.