Hong Kong CNN –
As parts of China experience record temperatures and heavy rains, reports of livestock and crops suffering from extreme weather conditions dominate headlines around the country, raising concerns about food security in the world’s second largest economy.
China experienced its worst heatwave and drought in decades in the summer of 2022, leading to widespread power shortages and disruptions to food and industrial supply chains. Extreme heat has hit many parts of the country even earlier this year than last year.
Since March, temperatures have hit seasonal record highs in dozens of Chinese cities. The heatwave has intensified in recent days, with record temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius in several cities in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.
As of Wednesday, 578 national weather stations in various cities across the country recorded their highest-ever temperatures for this time of year, according to the China Meteorological Administration.
“Extreme weather conditions such as drought and flooding can disrupt the order of food production, making food and oil supplies even more insecure,” Sheng Xia, chief agricultural analyst at Citic Securities, wrote in a research report on Wednesday.
He warned of an increasing threat to food security this year due to the looming El Niño, a natural phenomenon in the tropical Pacific that brings above-average temperatures. El Niño could push global warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels of the mid-to-late 19th century for the first time.
“For China, the El Niño event will easily lead to increased climate uncertainty in the Yangtze River basin, leading to flooding in the south and drought in the north, and cold summers in the northeast,” Sheng said.
Wang Gang/VCG/Getty Images
Tourists with umbrellas visit Shanghai during a heatwave on May 29, 2023. The city recently recorded its highest May temperature in more than 100 years.
Last month, the World Meteorological Organization said the likelihood of an El Niño developing later this year is increasing.
After last year’s severe heat wave and drought, Beijing has increased its focus on food security. In March, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said agriculture is the foundation of national security.
“If something goes wrong with farming, our bowls will end up in someone else’s hands and we will have to depend on others for the food supply. How can we achieve modernization in this case?” he said in an article published in March by Qiushi, the Communist Party’s main theoretical journal.
Reports of farm animals killed by extreme heat have dominated the news for the past few days.
Hundreds of pigs died at a farm in eastern Jiangsu province this week after a sudden power outage caused fans to stop working at night, according to multiple state media reports.
The pigs were suffocating in the extreme heat and poor air circulation, Jimu News, a state news website, quoted an unnamed farm worker as saying.
The heatwave has been blamed for killing large numbers of farmed carp living in paddy fields in the southwestern region of Guangxi. Villagers told the South of China Today newspaper on Wednesday that their fish were “scorched” as water temperatures soared due to the hot weather.
Prices for rabbit heads, a staple dish in Sichuan, have soared in recent days as high temperatures in farms have killed rabbits and tightened supplies. Spicy rabbit heads are a popular street food in the southwestern province, where residents consume more than 200 million rabbit heads annually, according to the industry association.
Extreme weather conditions have also affected the country’s largest wheat-growing region.
In the last week of May, just days before harvest time, torrential rains inundated wheat fields in Henan, a central province that accounts for a quarter of China’s production. The rains caused some crop fields to sprout or go moldy. According to the state-run China Media Group, the devastated crops accounted for 20% of some farmers’ yields throughout the year.
Shi Guangming/VCG/Getty Images
A farmer harvests wheat in Pingdingshan, Henan province, on May 30, 2023.
It is said to have been the worst rainfall near harvest season in more than a decade. And there will likely be more extreme weather events.
According to a recent estimate by the National Climate Center, there could be “simultaneous droughts and floods” from May to September, with more extreme climate events such as heavy rains and heat waves hitting the country.
Sheng pointed out that the heat wave and lack of rainfall in the far western region of Xinjiang have already affected some corn and wheat production.
According to an official estimate, rainfall in the middle reaches of the mighty Yangtze River, which cuts through the country, could fall significantly in the coming months. That could lead to a drought and affect the region’s rice harvest, he said.
The Yangtze River basin provides more than two-thirds of China’s rice, an important staple at home and abroad.