China’s heat wave hits its agricultural sector hard

Rain finally fell on Li Benguo’s parched peach farm on Thursday after almost a month. But he arrived a little too late.

For many farmers like Li, the record-breaking heat wave that hit southwest China has already taken its toll. Summer drought cost him at least 100,000 yuan ($14,600) as soaring temperatures sizzled his peach trees spanning more than 30 me (2 hectares) in the suburb of Deyang, Sichuan province.

“Peaches are the star product in Deyang and always easy to sell, but high temperatures have damaged nearly a third of them,” Li told Sixth Tone.

In Deyang, as in other places in the southwest, the country’s worst heat wave in more than 60 years has plagued residents, disrupting power supplies and causing a severe drought that has wreaked havoc on agriculture . Parts of hydropower-dependent Sichuan Province have announced power cuts and rationed water supplywhile withered leaves, dried up riverbeds and parched crops have become commonplace in this usually water-rich province.

Now, future food production has also become a growing concern.

Drought is the main contributor to crop loss in China, which has now been compounded by the risks posed by climate change. In early July, authorities warned that high temperatures could affect the country’s rice and cotton production, with experts estimating it could reduce the spring maize harvest by 30% this year.

As China reinforces the importance of ensuring food self-sufficiency, the bleak outlook for agriculture has also worried policymakers at the highest levels. On Thursday, four central government departments, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Water Resources, stressed the need to protect the autumn harvest, which accounts for three-quarters of annual food production but which is now “severely threatened”. .”

Li Benguo’s orange trees are dried, Deyang, Sichuan province, August 23, 2022. Courtesy of Li

The joint opinion asked local governments to formulate tailor-made measures to assess and repair the damage, divert water to where it is needed and “use every square of water with care”. More rain-generating rockets carrying silver iodide will also be deployed in drought-stricken regions to bring rain.

But in places that have already used the technology, farmers say artificially induced rain is not enough to save their crops.

Song Kaixiong, who grows sorghum, rice, corn and soybeans in mountainous Jiange County, Sichuan, said the local government has already used artificial rain twice in the past month. But he is pessimistic about the outcome and predicts that his rice production at 120 me agricultural land could drop by 30 to 40%.

“It’s not a question of whether they can be sold or not, there are simply no products…the corn that survives now has no grains and soybeans have no of pods,” Song told Sixth Tone.

Analysts say the disruption to Chinese agricultural production could impact the supply chain and harm livestock. Earlier this year, COVID-19 lockdowns in parts of China had already hurt corn planting and production in major agricultural hubs such as the northeastern province of Jilin.

Even Pay, an analyst at Trivium China specializing in agriculture, told Sixth Tone that she expects the effects of extreme weather events on agriculture to be felt primarily in China’s domestic and local markets. , and it could “moderately increase” local food prices in the country. short term. However, the impacts would not largely affect staple crops, as “hot and dry regions account for only 4% of China’s maize harvest” and the country could use stocks from its national rice reserve.

“I would expect very high temperatures and very low water availability to have a noticeable impact on fresh produce supply and prices,” Pay said.

The disruptions have already pushed up the prices of some food items. Prices of some leafy greens, including broccoli and bok choy, have already risen 10-30% at a major supermarket in Chengdu, according to local media. reported Wednesday.

To alleviate agricultural losses, the Chinese Ministry of Finance in mid-August assigned 300 million yuan of disaster relief funds to 13 provinces, including Sichuan. The money will be used to buy seeds, pesticides and other materials, while authorities in Sichuan are also pushing for agricultural insurance to help farmers claim crop losses.

Meanwhile, the provincial weather service on Thursday intended isolated rain and thunderstorms for several locations across Sichuan. Flood prevention authorities warned cities from potential flash floods, as parched soil lacks the ability to absorb water and is more vulnerable to flooding.

But forecasting much-needed rains has not been able to address the woes of many farmers. Li, who traded his job in the city for farming orchards in 2016, says extreme weather conditions are one of his biggest concerns when it comes to farming.

In the spring, he saw his orange trees bear very few flowers and fruits due to the heavy rains of the previous year. When summer came, his peaches were damaged by the scorching temperatures. And future seasons are just as unpredictable under the impact of climate change.

“There really is no solution,” Li said. “In agriculture, you just have to deal with these problems.”

Publisher: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A woman checks dried orange trees in Qingrong village, Neijiang, Sichuan province, August 24, 2022)

Lana T. Arthur