BEIJING (REUTERS) - China will put greater pressure on its regions to boost grain yields and step up support for its domestic seed industry as it strengthens its focus on food security after the Covid-19 pandemic, a major policy document issued late on Sunday (Feb 21) showed.
The annual rural policy blueprint, known as the "No. 1 document", placed greater emphasis on food security than in prior years, calling for all provinces to improve grain yields during the 2021-2025 period.
Beijing, which has long prioritised food security for its population of 1.4 billion, has strengthened its focus on the issue since the pandemic hit major food exporting nations last year and raised concerns about stability of food supplies.
"The uncertainty and instability of the external situation has increased significantly. On grain security, we must not take it lightly for one moment," Mr Tang Renjian, agriculture minister, told a media briefing on Monday, noting that China's population was still edging higher.
The document, published by the State Council, China's Cabinet, noted that Communist party committees will also shoulder responsibility for food security, in addition to local government.
China will build a "national food security industry belt", it added, a plan also outlined during a key economic policy meeting in December.
The belt aims to connect all of the country's key grain areas, officials said at the time.
The document also reiterated the new priority on the seed sector, seen as key to food security, urging faster implementation of major scientific projects in breeding.
It urged the "industrial application of biological breeding", using a term that encompasses genetically modified crops among others.
It also called for stronger protection of intellectual property rights in breeding and support for leading seed companies to establish commercial breeding systems.
"It is necessary to select a group of superior enterprises to give priority support," Mr Zhang Taolin, vice-agriculture minister, said at the briefing.
Shares of seed firms including Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co, Shandong Denghai Seed and Winall Hi-tech Seed Co were all up around 4 per cent on Monday.
China will also stabilise production of soya beans and develop edible oilseed crops including rapeseed and peanut, it said, amid tighter global supplies of edible oils, and will diversify its imports of agricultural products.
It also called for the building of a modern animal farming system and protecting the production capacity of hogs.
Despite recent concerns about a surge of disease over the winter, Mr Tang said on Monday China's hog herd will recover to 2017 levels by June, reaching numbers not seen since the outbreak of African swine fever.
However, he said the country needs to find ways to make the herd more stable and prevent farmers from slaughtering sows when prices fall.