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Relocating rice production in China

produce high-value vegetable crops catering to wealthier consumers who have diversified their diet etween 1979 and 2005, rice and eat less rice. Other rice lands area in China decreased from have been used for construction. 32.4 to 28.8 million hectares. The decline in rice area in At the same time, average yields went the relatively poor southwestern up from 4.2 tons per hectare in 1979 provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan to about 6.3 tons per hectare in 1997 has been much less than that of and thereafter. Because other southern provinces. of these opposite trends, Stable rice production However, economic conceals major shifts annual Chinese rice development does not seem production has been to explain the increase in the location and fairly stable at 170190 in rice production in cropping patterns million tons since the northeast. The main 1983.1 But this apparent of rice in China income gradient in China stability conceals (Map 2) is from east to major shifts in the location and west and not from north to south. cropping patterns of rice in China. The increase in rice area in the Rice cultivation in China is north may be related to an increased moving northward (see Map 1). demand for japonica-type rice, From 1979 to 2005, the southern which is better adapted to temperate province of Guangdong lost half climates, or to an expansion of its rice area, a decrease of 85,000 irrigation infrastructure. Another hectares per year. Over the same factor that may have contributed period, the northeastern province of Heilongjiang gained 64,000 hectares per year. Together, the four northern provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, Nei Mongol, and Heilongjiang had 2.7% of the Chinese rice area in 1979 and 11.5% in 2005. These provinces have also seen relatively strong increases in yield. In Heilongjiang, for example, yields have gone up 150 kilograms per hectare per yearalmost twice the annual yield gain for the whole of China. Economic development has strongly contributed to the decrease in rice area in the south. Because of an increased demand for off-farm labor, double cropping of riceonly possible in southern Chinais being replaced by a more laborefficient single rice crop. Some of the land and labor that were used for rice production are now used to by Robert Hijmans


china special
such analyses is disentangling the role of climate change from that of other factors influencing land use. For example, although warming increases the potential for double and triple cropping of rice, prevailing economic conditions are nudging farmers in the opposite direction. The spatio-temporal coincidence of warming and rice area expansion in northern China is striking, but a much more refined analysis is necessary to assess whether warming is contributing to this expansion. In areas such as northern China, which have witnessed rapid climate change over the past decades, looking backward can improve our ability to predict the future.
Dr. Hijmans is a geographer in IRRIs Social Sciences Division.

is climate change. Since the mid1960s, Earth has experienced very strong global warming of about 0.03 C per year.2 Warming has been strongest at high latitudes, and minimum temperature has increased more than maximum temperature. Warming in northeast China has been particularly strong (Map 3). The average minimum temperature in Heilongjiang is now about 2.5 C higher than it was in the early 1960s! A yield decline associated with increasing minimum temperatures has been observed in long-term trials at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.3 But, in relatively cool areas such as Heilongjiang, warming may have contributed to higher yields through a longer growing season and reduced cold stress. Only a few studies have analyzed the influence of past climate change on crop production.4 A challenge in

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Data available in the World Rice Statistics database at Global average, only considering temperatures over land, excluding Antarctica. Estimate based on data by Mitchell and Jones (2005), International Journal of Climatology 25:693-712. Peng et al (2004). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 101:9971-9975. Examples of such work include You et al (2005), Environment and Production Technology Discussion Paper 143, IFPRI. eptdp143.pdf, and Lobell and Field (2007), Environmental Research Letters 2:014002.

At time of printing, US$1 = 7.52 Chinese yuan.


Rice Today October-December 2007

Rice Today October-December 2007