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The backstory: China, home to over 1.4 billion people, has dealt with food production challenges since the late 1950s, rooted mainly in the nation’s push for collective farming during The Great Leap Forward. Fast forward to today, and the nation relies heavily on soybean imports, with over 80% of its supply imported, mostly from Brazil and the US. While it’s self-sufficient in staples like wheat and rice, things like climate change, geopolitical issues and supply chain kinks are challenges to food supply.
To tackle this head-on, China has zoomed in on enhancing food security. President Xi Jinping has said that China’s food security is also a matter of national security. He’s called on farmers to ramp up soybean production, using measures like subsidies, government stockpiling and other moves. He’s also pointed out the need to grow more crops in urban and barren areas and prioritize technological innovation in agriculture.
More recently: Vertical farming, a new way of growing crops year-round in multi-story buildings, is changing how we get our food, as seen in places like Japan, Singapore and the US. China is also trying some creative farming techniques, like high-rise pig farms in Hubei and growing rice in Xinjiang's salty deserts, all using cutting-edge tech. In August, the country even successfully farmed seafood in Xinjiang by simulating seawater conditions in a fishery far from the ocean and on the edge of a desert.
The development: Chinese scientists have launched the world's tallest unmanned vertical farm in Chengdu, Sichuan, under the umbrella of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. As reported by state broadcaster CCTV, this 20-story urban farm is packed with advanced technology, featuring self-bred crops, a 3D cultivation system, automatic nutrient supply, energy-efficient lighting and artificial intelligence (AI) control. What's noteworthy is that it can operate smoothly, regardless of the weather or location.
This farming breakthrough represents a major leap in China's efforts to secure its food supply. Using intelligent tech to manage light and nutrients, it can crank out lettuce every 35 days. And the nutritional value is on par with traditional farms. Other leafy greens, fruits and edible mushrooms can also be produced on a large scale at this farm.
“Food security’s gotten more important,” said Darin Friedrichs, co-founder and market research director of Sitonia Consulting, a China-based agricultural information service provider. “It was always important when it came to basic grains like corn, wheat and rice. But now the concerns are extending more into soybeans.”
“Scientific planning is needed to construct a new energy system to promote the complementary development of hydropower, wind, hydrogen, natural gas and other energy sources,” state news agency Xinhua quoted Xi as saying in July. “We should strengthen the production and supply of food and strategic mineral resources, and build a strategic base to guarantee the supply of important primary products for the country.”
"What is behind the attention from the general secretary over the development of fish seed in mariculture is his strong emphasis on food security for China's population of over 1.4 billion," said Chen Songlin, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering and chief scientist with the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences in April.