Can Aquaculture solve China’s food demand?

China has made great efforts over the last 40 years to meet its growing domestic food demand. From 1978 to 2021, China’s actual agricultural production increased at an average annual rate of 5.4% (more than five times the population growth), and diversification into high-protein, high-value products is progressing. Still, there remains a large gap between food demand and domestic supply, which is expected to widen.

Net imports of grain in 2021 were 165 million tonnes, including 96.5 million tonnes of soybeans (58.6%), 1.04 million tonnes of cooking oil (6.3%) and 28.35 million tonnes of corn (35.1%). It is. About a quarter of domestic production. Due to the high quality of the protein and the relatively low cost of production, aquaculture products are considered to be of greater economic value than livestock, both as food and as an alternative to feed grains.

This will make aquaculture a priority industry in China, the world’s largest fishery subsidy provider, and may help narrow the gap between food supply and demand. Offshore aquaculture will produce 20.65 million tonnes of seafood in 2020, accounting for 40 percent of total aquaculture production. Mussels, oysters and scallops rank in the top three seafood products (35%, 28% and 13% of seafood production respectively), and fishery products make up only 7.3% of the market.

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Exclusive Economic Zones

Regarding the geographical distribution of offshore aquaculture, most offshore aquaculture activities are located along the north and south coasts of China’s exclusive economic zone. In 2020, 46.7% of marine fisheries and agriculture came from the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, 29.5% from the East China Sea and 23.5% from the South China Sea. Less than 15 percent came from offshore fishing.

In the future, increasing per capita food demand, both in quantity and quality, will further increase the need for aquaculture products in China. According to the latest forecasts of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the total demand for aquaculture and the resulting production will increase from about 81 million tonnes to 100 million tonnes by 2035. This need for growth puts a great deal of pressure on domestic aquaculture production as it competes for limited feed supplies.

In addition to freshwater aquaculture such as mussels and carp, offshore high-nutrient species may increase domestic supply in the future. Industry needs to significantly improve production and efficiency in resource use. However, challenges arise from tightening environmental regulations, technology and feed development bottlenecks, the interaction between policy explanations and policy development, and the global availability of seafood and feed.

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5 Year Plan

To solve the problems of the future development of China’s aquaculture industry, new guiding principles were introduced in the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025). This new policy emphasizes sustainable production and aims to be achieved through increased productivity to guide the future development of China’s aquaculture industry. As evidence, wild-capture fisheries are already severely restricted between 2016 and 2020, with production as an absolute and relative share of total aquaculture declining over the same period.

In parallel with the acceleration of domestic production in freshwater and marine aquaculture, China is also actively expanding its ability to outsource increasing demand. Meanwhile, China is stepping up its efforts to explore deep-sea fishery resources, along with improved shipbuilding capabilities and technological advances. At the same time, China is stepping up foreign trade and investment to increase imports of aquaculture products. This underscores that China’s current strategy, along with the Belt and Road Initiative, is to move to a market-based demand-driven economy for aquaculture products.

International market outsourcing is an attractive option, but this strategy relies on China’s ability to access sufficient production internationally. In any case, the results are expected to have a significant impact on other parts of the world.

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Source: Asia Forum

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