Journal of Agricultural Chemistry and Environment, 2014, 3, 9-15
Published Online July 2014 in SciRes.
How to cite this paper: Li, R.C. and Lin , H.L. (2014) Developing the Agro-Grassland System to Insure Food Security of China.
Journal of Agricultural Chemistry and Environment, 3, 9-15.
Developing the Agro-Grassland System to
Insure Food Security of China
Ruichao Li, Huilong Lin*
State Key Laboratory of Grassland Agro-Ecosystems, College of Pastoral Agriculture Science and Technology,
Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, China
Email: *
Received 14 June 2014
China’s food security has always been the top priority in China. As the huge increase of animal food
consumption, the current agriculture system in China namely grain farming, whose major ani-
mal feed are grains, seems to meet a great challenge to ensure China’s food security in the future.
Not only the current situation, but also the production capacity as developing grassland agricul-
ture is analyzed in this paper. The results show that half of provinces dont have enough grain to
meet their various needs for grain, and the whole country’s potential of grain yield is reaching a
limited position. On the other hand, implementing cereal-forage rotation on 20% of the total ara-
ble land and developing high productivity sown pastures on 3% of the total rangeland areas could
create approximately 1.2 times Arable Land Equivalent Unit (ALEU) than ever. So changing the
traditional agriculture system into Grassland Agro-Ecosystems is an effective way to insure Chi-
na’s food security. It includes utilization of rangeland rationally, establishment of more sown pas-
ture and implementation of cereal-pasture rotation system, increase livestock production, and use
of arable land more efficiently.
Food Security, Grassland Agriculture, Arable Land Equivalent Unit, China
1. Introduction
Lester Brown has mentioned that China’s food problem will threat the food security of the entire world, and
China’s dependence on massive food imports will be a wake-up call that we are colliding with the earth’s capac-
ity to feed us [1]. His results have attracted worldwide attention about food security of China. How to use 7% of
world’s cultivated land and 8% of fresh water to feed China’s 22% of world’s population has become a huge
problem for world food security and the top priority in China [2] [3].
China’s current agriculture system has been defined as “grain farming”, with the grain the staple crop and
pigs the major livestock, while forage crops are a relatively minor feed source. Because of the high cost of f eed-
ing animals in the current system, pigs which have a comparatively high rate of return on fodders, have a signif-
*Corresponding a uthor.
R. C. Li, H. L. Lin
icant place in the animal products market. Herbivores, which have a comparatively low rate of return on fodders,
remain a small proportion of animal production in China.
Nowadays, the concept of food security is evolving into one of nutrition security [4], which means that not
only plant food, but also animal food should be taken into consideration to analyze food security problems. But
the high expend of animal husbandry in China is inconsistent with the huge increase of animal food consump-
tion, and exert great pressure on the grain production. To solve this new problem, some researchers put forward
an idea that developing grassland agriculture in China [5] [6]. Compared to grain farming, grassland agriculture
may be described as the art and science of cultivating forage crops, pasture and rangelands for food and fiber
production [7]. The American Forage & Grassland Council defines grassland agriculture as “the proper use of
grasses in agriculture”, and both grasses and grass-legume mixtures can be used to feed livestock, support wild-
life and to maintain land resources in good condition [8]. The effect of grassland agriculture under artificial con-
trol of input and output of energy flow, material flow and information flow is to maximize eco-economic bene-
fits [9].
Food has been narrowly defined as grain since food security was been studied in China, so that the food secu-
rity has been equated tograin security”. Despite the increasing consumption of animal food, almost all re-
searches of food security in China actually focus on grain [2] [10] [11]. So study based on food diversity is ur-
gently needed to evaluate the curren t situation of food supply and demand and estimate if the current agriculture
system is able to guarantee China’s food s ecurity. Not only the current situation, but also the production capacity
when develop grassland agriculture are measured and calculated in the study.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Data Acqui siti on
The statistics to calculate food consumption and food production of each province in 2011 such as urban and
rural population, per capita consumption of different kinds of food were obtained from 2012’s National Bureau
of Statistics of China [12], as well as the data of grain yield from 1978 to 2011 and the areas of cropland and
grassland of different province. The grain consumptions to produce unit animal food in China (Table 1) were
from 2002’s statistics of the Development Planning Department of Ministry of Agriculture [13]. The concept of
Arable Land Equivalent Unit (ALEU) of different land use in different regions is come from Ren and Lin [14]
and it will be calculated accordingly.
2.2. Analyzing the Present Situation of Food Security
By multiplying per capita food consumption with the population, food grain consumption will be estimated. The
quantity of feed grain consumption will be estimated according to multiplying grain consumption that needed to
produce a unit animal food (Table 1) by the output of each kind of animal food. Subtracting grain consumption
from grain yield, the difference between grain supply and demand will be worked out, only cons idering the food
grain and feed grain as the total grain consumption. All above are done on provincial level, and a distribution
map will be drawn in ArcGis9.3 software environment.
Hodrick-Prescott (H-P) filter [15] as a mathematical tool is used to separate the cyclical component from
grain yield (EViews 6.0 software) and to reveal the underlying trends in grain yield from 1978 to 2011.
2.3. Measur ing and Calculating the Production Capacity of Grassland Agriculture
In order to analyze food production capacity, a unified land conversion system namely the Arable Land Equiva-
lent Unit (ALEU) [14] will be introdu ced in this study, which can place different kinds and quality of land into a
common land equivalent for further calculation. The per unit yield of annual rice production in monoculture is
regarde d a s 1 Arable Land Equivalent Unit (ALEU).
Table 1. Grain consumption to produce unit animal food.
Pork Beef and mutton Poultry Eggs Milk
Grain consumption 3.5 2.5 2 2.5 0.3
R. C. Li, H. L. Lin
3. Result
3.1. Present Situation of Food Security
Figure 1 shows the gap derived from anomalies between supply and demand of each province in China in 2011.
We divided the differences into 4 parts: demand exceeding supply (<0), supply exceeding demand to 3 different
degrees (0 - 500, 500 - 1500, 1500 - 5000. Unit: 104 t). There are 10 provinces are in great short of grain in Chi-
na (<0), which are happen to be the most developed areas such as Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian,
Guangdong and Hainan, and the most underdeveloped areas including Tibet, Qinghai and Guizhou. The reason
of this phenomenon occurred is due to the urbanization in developed areas and the poor soil condition in under-
developed areas. Among these areas, Guangdong province approximately has an as large as 17 million tons gap
between grain production and consumption, and becomes the biggest food-deficit province in China. Besides,
there are 8 provinces located in the middlewest and southwest which have less than 5 million ton’s food surplus.
This means that these provinces are actually hard to have remnant considering the other food use and food waste.
The 6 provinces with most grain surplus are in the northeast and middle east of China. It is corresponds to the
phenomenon of “north to south grain transport” [16].
From whole viewpoint, half of provinces don’t have enough grain to meet their various needs for grain; the
major grain production areas including Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong have become the most grain scarcity
provinces; but those provinces in northeast areas with shortage of water and heat has taken the heavy burden to
feed China. Such a situation of grain supply and demand will prejudice the China’s food security.
Whether could we improve the situation by enhance the yield of grain? The H-P filter has showed that the
growth potential of grain yield is limited ( Figure 2). Ac cording to the result of th e H-P filter, the growth poten-
tial of grain yield in China has reached a limit. So the wishful thinking which plan to enhance the yield of grain
greatly and to improve the grain shortage situation is unpractical.
3.2. The Production Capacity of Grassland Agriculture
The grassland agriculture system will include the following main components: in the traditional cropping areas,
instead of cereal monoculture, about 20% of the total arable land area should be used for cereal-forage rotation.
In the pastoral areas, high productivity sown pastures should be developed and the area at least should reach 3%
of the total rangeland areas in China. The results the production capacity calculated in this agricultural pattern
were listed in Table 2.
Figure 1. The difference between supply and demand for grain in 2011.
R. C. Li, H. L. Lin
Table 2. The arable land equivalent unit of grassland agriculture.
Crop land Natural grassland Cereal-forage rotation Cultivated grassland ALEU of
ALEU Area FEU Area ALEU Area ALEU Area
(hm2·hm2) (104hm2) (hm2·hm2) (104 hm2) (hm2·hm2) (104 hm2) (hm2·hm2) (104 hm2) (104 hm2)
Beijing 0.41 18.54 0.39 32.62 2.00 4.63 1.00 1.01 30.60
Tianjin 0.41 35.29 0.39 13.13 2.00 8.82 1.00 0.41 37.64
Hebei 0.41 505.38 0.39 396.28 2.00 126.35 1.00 12.26 626.70
Shanxi 0.41 356.46 0.39 441.54 2.00 89.12 1.00 13.66 510.24
Mongolian 0.41 571.78 0.30 6168.34 2.00 142.94 1.00 190.77 2561.59
Liaoning 0.45 326.82 0.36 314.21 2.00 81.71 1.00 9.72 433.32
Jilin 0.45 442.77 0.36 424.76 2.00 110.69 1.00 13.14 586.68
Heilongjiang 0.45 946.41 0.36 589.92 2.00 236.60 1.00 18.24 1129.70
Shanghai 0.59 19.52 0.76 3.62 2.83 4.88 1.00 0.11 28.19
Jiangsu 0.59 381.10 0.76 31.59 2.83 95.28 1.00 0.98 519.47
Zhejiang 0.59 153.67 0.76 201.29 2.83 38.42 1.00 6.23 358.60
Anhui 0.59 458.42 0.76 144.06 2.83 114.60 1.00 4.46 708.74
Fujian 0.95 106.41 0.76 189.83 2.83 26.60 1.00 5.87 326.52
Jiangxi 0.59 226.17 0.76 373.21 2.83 56.54 1.00 11.54 588.64
Shandong 0.59 601.22 0.39 128.93 2.00 150.31 1.00 3.99 709.60
Henan 0.59 634.11 0.39 392.20 2.00 158.53 1.00 12.13 856.27
Hubei 0.59 373.13 0.74 491.94 3.90 93.28 1.00 15.21 963.19
Hunan 0.59 303.15 0.74 549.63 3.90 75.79 1.00 17.00 898.16
Guangdong 0.95 226.46 0.76 259.69 2.83 56.61 1.00 8.03 580.75
Guangxi 0.95 337.40 0.74 630.53 3.90 84.35 1.00 19.50 1135.59
Hainan 0.95 58.20 0.76 81.80 2.83 14.55 1.00 2.53 161.16
Chongqing 0.59 178.87 0.74 181.12 3.90 44.72 1.00 5.60 419.57
Sichuan 0.59 475.79 0.74 1722.05 3.90 118.95 1.00 53.26 2072.19
Guizhou 0.59 358.82 0.74 364.69 3.90 89.71 1.00 11.28 842.71
Yunnan 0.59 485.77 0.74 1156.78 3.90 121.44 1.00 35.78 1652.02
Tibet 0.59 28.93 0.37 6872.14 2.00 7.23 1.00 212.54 2786.76
Shaanxi 0.33 324.02 0.39 421.87 2.00 81.01 1.00 13.05 446.52
Gansu 0.33 372.70 0.37 1558.95 2.00 93.18 1.00 48.21 934.37
Qinghai 0.33 43.42 0.37 3058.47 2.00 10.85 1.00 94.59 1262.26
Ningxia 0.33 88.57 0.30 254.68 2.00 22.14 1.00 7.88 157.79
Xinjiang 0.33 329.97 0.15 4452.51 2.00 82.49 1.00 137.71 1079.46
R. C. Li, H. L. Lin
Figure 2. H-P filter analysis of grain yield in China from 1978 to 2011.
In the part of crop land, if the cereal-forage rotation is put in force, it would increase 51 million hm2 ALEU in
China, and would be as twice as it was in the past. Because of the high ALEU by cereal-forage rotation in the
southwest region (3.9 hm2/hm2), implementation of grassland agriculture amon g traditional cropping areas
would increase ALEU about 51%, which is more than other regions. In grassland regions, the high productivity
cultivated grassland established could increase approximately 6 million hm2 ALEU. Cultivated grassland built in
the Tibet, Qinghai and Inner Mongolian which are full of grassland resource could increase 3.3 more ALEU
which is 55% of the countrys whole increased ALEU. Totally, the potential lands’ production capacity of
grassland agricultur e is to be about 254 million hm2 ALEU. The land output ability in g rassland agricu lture is to
be 1.3 times than the traditional “grain farming”, meanwhile Jiangsu province will reached 1. 7 ti mes.
4. Discussion
As China’s food security has some new problems such as the limited capacity for grain production, competitive
demands for grain with human and animal foods, unreasonable utilization in water resource [17] and the vulne-
rability to g lobal climate change. To ensure China’s food security in the future under China’s current agriculture
system is really a great challenge not only for Chinese central government but for the w hole world. So the cur-
rent agriculture system was found to be outdated [6], and as is analyzed above, grassland agriculture would be
an alternative.
In facing up to the continuing increase of animal food demand, grassland agriculture has some advantages.
Firstly, it can differentiate food consumed by human beings and by livestock. That is because of the ruminants
which are the main kind of animal in grassland agriculture. Compared with grain-fed animals such as pig and
poultry, ruminants can increase the grain input-output ratio by lower inputs of grains and higher inputs of grass
[18], thereby saving feed grain and reducing the pressure on food security. Besides, grassland agriculture could
provide a large number of high-quality animal foods. A lot of practices have proved that use high-quality le-
gume-grass meal to feed chickens, pigs, cattle, sheep and other livestock can boost output of live stocks by 10%
to 17% [19].
There exists an abundant grassland resource in China. The area of available grassland is almost 2.7 times than
that of the cropland. To develop grassland agriculture in different regions could take full advantage of the nutri-
tion efficiency in agriculture and can, optimize food structure, and solve different problems of food security in
different areas. The water and heat condition in south China is the best of the whole country, and is fit well to
develop grassland agriculture. To implement grassland agriculture here will enhance the food output in southern
China and change the situation of grain shortage. The west of China has been the country’s traditional pasturing
areas which nowadays meet the grain shortage problem because of the too much use of feed grain. The grassland
of this region takes about 75% of the total grassland area in China. So the west region has a large potential to
develop grassland agriculture. Using grass instead of grain to feed animals could bring about a larger output of
R. C. Li, H. L. Lin
animal food to the country and will solve its own food problems. The northeast and the middle east of China are
the main grain production regions. Monoculture of grain will cau se excessive use of land and lead to non-point
source pollu tion and soil fertility decline. Developing grasslan d agriculture here will improve the soil co ndition
and solve the pollution problem [20].
To take full advantage of these Grassland Agro-Ecosystems will avoid wasting and leaving unused. For
grassland agriculture to emerge and fully develop, changes in government policies will be needed [21].
1) Educate future students, producers, and the general public about the multifunctional nature of grasslands
and the ser vices they provide ;
2) Increase public research funding for grass and forage production and utilization;
3) Minimize price support programs that reward cereal monoculture and increase subsidies on grass and
The research was supported by the key consultative project “Ecological security of grassland and food security
in China” by Chinese Academy of Engineering (2012-ZD-7) and Program for Changjiang S cholars and Innova-
tive Research Team in University (IRT13019).
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