context: COVID-19 may cause global food shortages as panic buying and export restrictions hit supply and circulation. Chinese officials have confirmed the state’s ability to shield consumers from food crisis on several occasions. However, the reliance on imports of certain crops, such as soybeans, may send food prices soaring and add uncertainty to domestic markets.

Rumours of a coming food shortage have swirled for weeks, leading to panic buying in some regions, rapidly pushing up prices of rice, wheat, corn, and soybean. At a 4 Apr 2020 press conference, Wei Baigang 魏百刚 MARA (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs) Department of Development Planning director said that national food security is under control, presenting key data including

  • grain production has remained above 650 million tonnes for five consecutive years
  • over 470 kg per capita grain availability, higher than the 400 kg world average
  • grain stock/consumption ratio higher than the suggested 17-18 percent
    • wheat and rice stocks sufficient to support domestic consumption for a year
  • small amount of grain imports, totaling 14.68 million tonnes, accounting for 2 percent of total domestic consumption

Complemented by policy reserves and private inventory, the national and local grain reserves are the cornerstone of the state’s food security, said Qin Yuyun 秦玉云 SGAR (State Grain and Reserves Administration) Department of Grain Reserves director. The national grain reserve has not been released since the COVID-19 outbreak.

The possibility does exist that the pandemic will hurt soybean imports, particularly in the second half of 2020 when US soybean production might be reduced due to quarantine measures, predicts Liu Xuezhi 刘学智 Bank of Communications Financial Research Centre senior analyst.