It is a fact that China has to feed its large population, equivalent to 22 percent of the whole world, with only 7 percent of global farmland. How to feed over 1 300 million people is the central issue. Domestic experts in different research fields have proposed various solutions. One suggestion is to establish an intensive grain feeding system, based on local production and imports, as in most developed countries. But how can this be achieved? Let us analyse it. Since Mr. Deng Xiaoping established the so-called "productive related interest distributing system" in 1978, unprecedented production activity has developed in a vast area of the Chinese countryside. For the following six years (1979-1984), the annual increase in grain output (up to 17 million tonne) greatly surpassed population growth at the time. It was a successful policy. However, it was impossible to maintain that high pace relying only on that strategy. The increment fell to less than 4.5 million tonne per year for the next 16 years, despite high government inputs (finance, staff, etc.). Per capita grain availability also fell. Looking towards the future, it is possible that some increase in grain production will take place, but it will certainly be difficult to keep up with population growth.
Another proposal has been to meet the grain demand of China through imports, because it was known that subsidies had been offered by governments of major grain exporting countries. Thus, the greater the imports, the larger the subsidy. However, in contrast to Japan, Rep. of Korea and Singapore, China is a country with a huge population, and if its grain consumption approaches the USA level, there would be an annual demand of 80-100 million tonne of grain, nearly half of total world exports. Grain prices would skyrocket. In this case, what of subsidies? Further, it would be a serious risk for world food security to have China relying mostly on imports. That is the theme of Lester Brown's book "Who will feed China?"
Various pasture experts had another proposal. They hoped that grasslands, representing 40 percent of China's surface, would make a substantial contribution to food supply. This optimistic idea sounded reasonable, but the grasslands are suffering from serious degradation, desertification and alkalization processes, which cause serious concern. Everyone would like the government to devote more attention to the pasture problem: strengthening protective measures, reducing overgrazing and augmenting financial support. Then, after generations of hard work, it would be possible to recover the primary ecological system of grasslands. Most pasture experts tend to agree on this approach.
Since the development of an "intensive grain feeding system" is restricted by the lack of grain, and the potential of grassland is also a distant oasis that cannot quench present thirst, then the exploitation of various kinds of non-traditional feed resources is the most obvious way to resolve the issue. Crop residues are the most abundant and widespread of the non-traditional feed resources. Consequently, attention was directed to crop residues as the key missing feed in China.
In the mid-1980s, The MOA started studies on how to improve the efficiency of crop residue use. Soon after, with the support of agricultural colleges, research organizations and agricultural technical services in different areas, some small-scale trials were conducted. In 1987, financial support was offered by FAO and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and pilot projects of cattle feeding based on crop residues were conducted in provinces such as Hebei and Henan, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). A group of well-known international experts (including E.R. Orskov, F. Dolberg, F. Sundstol and P. Finlayson) visited China, and many Chinese technical officials and experts were sent abroad to study and train. Thus, the techniques for crop residue treatment and animal feeding matured gradually. Based on the success of the pilot projects, 14 experts - led by Guo Tingshuang and Ji Yilun - jointly submitted a written proposal to the Central Government "to develop animal production based on crop residues". Some high-level officials accepted this proposal. As noted earlier, there are diverse positions on this issue, both for and against. Pursuing the philosophy of respecting science and seeking the truth, the Bureau of Animal Production and Health (BAPH) of MOA organized a large-scale debate on this theme in 1991. The proposal for Animal production based on crop residues (APCR) than received preliminary acceptance. In 1992, a State Councillor, Mr Chen Junsheng, went to Zhoukou Prefecture in Henan Province to make an on-site observation, accompanied by the author. His report strongly confirmed the importance of APCR for national agriculture. Former Premier Li Peng praised it highly, calling it "such an exciting report". Subsequently, the State Council convened three national conferences within two years on APCR planning. A project demonstrating cattle raising with crop residues began in 1992. From then on, China's cattle sector emerged from a dormancy that had lasted several decades, and began a new period of rapid development. Within only three years, national beef output doubled. Since then, beef production has always led livestock sector growth. More than 90 percent of the beef expansion came from agricultural provinces. The correctness of the APCR policy was corroborated in practice.
Soon after, the State Council decided to expand the APCR rearing approach to include buffaloes, sheep, goats and dairy cattle. Thus far, the APCR has become part of government policy and is currently practised by numerous farmers. By 2000, 13 APCR demonstration prefectures and 380 demonstration counties had been established in the country. For the last nine years, the direct economic benefit of the APCR project has been calculated to exceed ¥ 70 000 million. In addition, the APCR project generated numerous social, agronomic and environmental benefits.
It was then considered necessary to summarize the practical experiences of APCR projects, and put them on a scientific or technical level for their further expansion. Thus, responding to the initiative of FAO, experts were organized to prepare a book to be published and distributed worldwide. Recognizing our limitations, there could be some involuntary mistakes. We kindly ask the readers of this book to point them out to us, so that they can be corrected in future editions.
Senior Engineer and Former Vice-Director
Bureau of Animal Production and Health,
Ministry of Agriculture, People's Republic of China