April 19, 2012, by Fraser
China’s growing demand for food
“A debate on food security without the Chinese is like staging Hamlet without the Prince – it makes no sense.”
Dr John Strak, Honorary Professor in Food Economics at The University of Nottingham, explores China’s growing demand for food.
The latest piece of research from The Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) in the UK confirms something that we all knew was coming – China has overtaken the United States as the world’s biggest food and grocery retail market.
According to the IGD researchers, the Chinese grocery sector was worth £607 billion at the end of 2011, while the Americans spent £572 billion over the same period. This isn’t just a one off statistical event – by 2015 the IGD forecasts that the Chinese market will be worth £918 billion compared to a US spend of around £675 billion. Indeed, Chinese food sales will grow at a rate of almost 11% per annum between 2011 and 2015 – more than twice the rate of the US market.
These numbers put China’s place in the debate about global food security (GFS) in context. Clearly, a debate on food security without the involvement of the Chinese is like staging Hamlet without the Prince. It makes no sense. That’s one of the reasons why the GFS Priority Research Group at Nottingham is actively pursuing research links and meetings with Chinese colleagues at our campus in China and with new colleagues from research institutions situated all around China.
What should be done and when
I am personally making progress with new research collaborations on the Chinese meat industry with academics at Sichuan Agricultural University. And the major global food security event in Shanghai that Nottingham is hosting later this year will bring world class researchers and major global food businesses into one room in order to identify solutions to food security issues.
Stakeholders from industry and the academic community from west and east will be encouraged to focus on what can be done and by when, rather than what should be done, if ever.
The other angle on this subject that should not be neglected is the need to construct a multidisciplinary dialogue and research effort. Science-led solutions for GFS questions will have social and cultural impacts – and will need to be framed within the existing market and economic systems. There is only so much change that the world’s institutions and trading networks can bear in a set period of time.
This last point is one that the Chinese system, with its checks and balances and its habit of considering history and tradition as an important part of dealing with change is something that I, for one, will welcome. China’s dominance of the world’s food market is a timely reminder of how important Chinese ideas will be in achieving global food security in the future.