Agriculture Minister He Kang, a chief architect of China's spectacular agricultural development, said yesterday that his country will continue to be a market for U.S. farm goods, despite its dramatic drive toward food self-sufficiency.
Here to receive an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Maryland, He said American grains, breeding stock and food processing technology will be needed as China attempts to raise its standard of living.
"We have achieved basic self-sufficiency in food and fiber production," the Chinese official said, "but our standard of living is lower [than the United States] . . . . As the living standard comes up, we should raise more livestock and import stock from the United States and utilize U.S. equipment for food processing."
Many experts regard China's agricultural explosion as one of history's most significant farming success stories. In fewer than 50 years, output has grown to the point that about 1 billion people are fed by using only 7 percent of the world's cultivated land.
Minister He said the Chinese program has achieved an average annual increase of 11 percent in food production over the last six years. Gains in wheat output, for example, have made China the world's No. 1 producer. Once an importer of 4 million bales of cotton per year, China now exports about 1 million bales.
"This has occurred mainly because of our government policy, which takes agriculture as the base of the national economy," the minister said. "Our policy encourages incentives for price and farming diversification, for using advanced scientific technology and more investment and input by government."
University officials noted He Kang's role in his nation's "farming revolution" as they awarded him the honorary degree. University President John S. Toll called him "one of the world's most outstanding agricultural scientists."
The Chinese minister said his government is relying on U.S. expertise and exchanges with the University of Maryland and other U.S. land-grant universities to further agricultural development. Chinese students are enrolled at the College Park campus, and Maryland agriculture faculty members lecture in China.
"All of our important agricultural colleges have close relations with their American counterparts," he said. "In the future, we could exchange germ plasm and biotechnological developments. We are holding symposiums in China and here on subjects of mutual interest like soybeans and citrus."
Although at least half of China's population is involved in farming, Minister He said the country is moving toward more mechanization as industrial development in rural areas takes farmers off the land.
"About 70 million of our farmers already have left the land. Our policy is that they leave the land, but they do not leave the village. We must have economies of scale, so our policy will be to keep a certain percentage of land in cultivation and as our commercial enterprises grow, we expect to have more than 10 million small-scale industries in the countryside."
He Kang expressed sympathy for the recent economic troubles of U.S. farmers, plagued by falling world markets and low prices, but he did not offer hope for immediate Chinese help in the marketplace.
"The hearts of the farmers are always linked, so we understand," he said. "We hope our American colleagues have better income and markets."