Hunger in ChinaAs the second-largest economy globally and home to 4.5 million millionaires, it is not difficult to forget about the poverty-stricken groups and hunger in China. The government estimates that at least 30 million Chinese are still living under the poverty line, struggling to secure a livelihood.

Natural Disasters

China is among the most disaster-prone countries, with drought and flooding being regular occurrences. With more than 186 million exposed to the effects of these natural disasters, the country’s potential grain output reduces to about 20 million tons annually. The expansion of agricultural activities into areas prone to disasters and with poor maintenance of water conservation systems further exacerbates the vulnerability.

Hunger in China

In 2016, 8.7 percent of the population was undernourished, which is half of the number that was undernourished in 2000. While this is indeed a significant reduction and commendable achievement, there is still an abundance of hunger in China. There are still more than 100 million malnourished Chinese, the majority of those people living in rural locations.

A poor diet leads to a high rate of growth stunting in children (9.4 percent). Additionally, anemia in children occurs at a rate of 19.6 percent. These qualifiers of hunger in China pose significant burdens for 1.4 million citizens.

Furthermore, a study of 1,800 infants in a north-west province in China found that almost half were anemic and 40 percent had hampered developmental cognitive or motor functions. Fewer than 10 percent of the infants in the study experienced stunting or wasting, signifying that the problem in most cases was the lack of nutrients rather than calories. Undernutrition hinders educational achievement and productivity, which would lead to significant economic losses both nationally and globally.

The Government’s Hunger Alleviation Strategy

The rate of malnutrition has pressed the Chinese government to act. The state has provided subsidies for school lunches in efforts to provide a solution to children that experience hunger in China. These subsidies have fed about 23 million children in 680 poorest counties. It also provides nutritional supplements for hundreds of thousands of babies in the country.

The most prioritized strategy to reduce hunger in China is poverty alleviation. Among the initiatives that China has taken, massive agricultural development with land reforms contributed significantly to the successful alleviation of hunger in China. Several key policy reforms and investments have helped stimulate the productivity of farmers, such as the abolition of agricultural taxes, subsidies for farmers, or lifting the sale and purchase of grains. Over the last decade, milk production more than tripled, meat production rose by 30 percent and vegetables and fruits production increased by nearly 60 percent. The increased availability of food in addition to higher income has led to improved nutrition in the population. The prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years of age dropped significantly, from 30 percent in 1990 to about 9 percent in 2015.

With its commitment to alleviate poverty and hunger, China has remarkably improved citizen quality of life. China is now self-reliant with respect to its national food supply. Additionally, a quarter of global food production comes from China. While the government is on a path to achieving food security for the entire population and eradicating hunger in China, efforts should also aim to secure an adequate supply of vital nutrients to reduce the problem of anemia in children.

Since the focus of fighting poverty with reforms and policy more than four decades ago, China has achieved unprecedented success. The government has transformed from a struggling nation to the second-largest economy in the world. By doing so, China successfully lifted millions out of hunger and cut the global hunger rate by two thirds. It is the first developing country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger. If China maintains the current pace, it is possible the nation will become the first country to entirely eradicate poverty and hunger.

– Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr