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Addressing China’s grand challenge of achieving food security while ensuring environmental sustainability

This short article discusses policies for achieving food security and environmental objectives in China. Rural development has been placed at the top of the policy agenda in China but recently the Chinese leadership has also included an ambition to achieve environmental sustainability. This is presented as part of the plans for an “ecological civilization”, presented at the 18th Plenary Congress of the Communist Party of China.

The authors of this article argue that this new ambition marks a move away from purely economic-driven growth to a more balanced and sustainable development including broader environmental and social goals. The article discusses various policies for ensuring food security while achieving environmental sustainability, but the authors do not discuss questions of demand and their role in achieving these goals in China. 

We also highlight another report on China’s new sustainable development plans here:

Briefing paper: Ecological progress: Understanding China’s new framework for sustainable development.


China’s increasingly urbanized and wealthy population is driving a growing and changing demand for food, which might not be met without significant increase in agricultural productivity and sustainable use of natural resources. Given the past relationship between lack of access to affordable food and political instability, food security has to be given a high priority on national political agendas in the context of globalization. The drive for increased food production has had a significant impact on the environment, and the deterioration in ecosystem quality due to historic and current levels of pollution will potentially compromise the food production system in China. We discuss the grand challenges of not only producing more food but also producing it sustainably and without environmental degradation. In addressing these challenges, food production should be considered as part of an environmental system (soil, air, water, and biodiversity) and not independent from it. It is imperative that new ways of meeting the demand for food are developed while safeguarding the natural resources upon which food production is based. We present a holistic approach to both science and policy to ensure future food security while embracing the ambition of achieving environmental sustainability in China. It is a unique opportunity for China to be a role model as a new global player, especially for other emerging economies.


Lu, Y., Jenkins, A.,  Ferrier, R. C., Bailey, M., Gordon, I. J., Song, S., Huang, J.,  Jia, S., Zhang, F., Liu, X., Feng, Z.,  Zhang, Z., 2015, Addressing China’s grand challenge of achieving food security while ensuring environmental sustainability, Science Advances ,Vol. 1 no. 1 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400039

Read the full article here. In a blog-post on the James Hutton Institute website, there is a recap of a recent China-UK dialogue meeting on the topic of food security in China.  You can read it here.

You can also read an in depth report by the FCRN focusing on food sustainability challenges and trends in both production and demand in China, see Appetite for change – social economic and environmental transformations in China’s food system.

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