China's Challenge With Food Production

China's challenge to supply food to its rising population. Source |

China's challenge to supply food to its rising population. Source |

A challenge resulting from the ever increasing population in China is the production of agriculture. With a population of 24 million people and rising fast, food production will become ever more crucial in the city of Shanghai. China has lost over 123,000 square kilometres of farmland to urbanization. It is estimated by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection that roughly 200,000 square kilometres of arable land suffers from soil pollution.

Shanghai’s new approach to solve this issue is the 250 acre Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District that represents the changing nature of the city. In direct comparison to Shanghai’s high-rising skyscrapers in the city centre, Sunqiao follows the same trend of modern Shanghai, moving upwards. The new urban area will start construction in late 2017 with the design of vertical farming systems that will increase the productive capacity of the region as well as reducing operating costs. Due to the increasingly high land prices of many global cities, building up makes this project an economically beneficial choice.

A self-sufficient system for Shanghai. Source |

A self-sufficient system for Shanghai. Source |

It’s goal is to increase agricultural productivity whilst tackling problems with traditional agricultural practises such as increased greenhouse gas, food waste, deforestation and increased irrigation by promoting a self-sufficient system of re-using waste as fertilisers and using rainwater as a vital resource (see figure).      

“20% of the world’s population and employing 22% of Chinese citizens.”

Production will be based on the Shanghainese diet, which typically consists of up to 56% green leafy vegetables. They thrive in the simple setups, growing quickly whilst weighing little, both of which make them an economical and efficient option. While Shanghai aims to become a leader in urban food production, not only does Sunqiao address the demand for locally-sourced food, it also educates the next generation of urban children about where their food comes from. This project goes against the narrative that China is an economy driven by manufacturing. China is actually the world’s largest producer and consumer of agricultural products. In fact, the agricultural sector represents approximately 13% of China’s total Gross Domestic Product. In the United States, agriculture accounts for about 5.7% of GDP. Agriculture in China is also responsible for feeding 20% of the world’s population and employing 22% of Chinese citizens.

Sustainability and style, the future of Shanghai. Source |

Sustainability and style, the future of Shanghai. Source |

In addition, Shanghai has made a persistent effort to safeguard both food and farmers by taking control of local production and distribution while preserving farmland within city limits. This system creates efficiencies, reduces costs, and protects the livelihoods of local farmers. Sunqiao manages to merge the economic interests of agriculture to the economy while preserving the traditional practices of small, localized farms. Sunqiao illustrates how the Chinese government’s strategy of preserving land for agricultural purposes can actively support a more sustainable local food network while increasing quality of life in the city through a community program of restaurants, markets, a culinary academy, and pick-your-own experiences. Sunqiao is an example of how sustainability and preservation can be achieved in the wake of urbanization.

Has Climate Change Intensified Hurricanes?

Hurricanes are complex and difficult to predict. With the rarity of these events and the small amount of historical data, it is difficult to say that climate change is worsening the impact. However, we can say with a great deal of certainty that it is likely.

Not to be confused with a tropical storm with wind speeds between 39 mph and 74 mph.

A hurricane / typhoon / tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that generates high-powered circular winds of over 74 mph (Category 1) and reaching 157+ mph (Category 5).

Source: NASA | Commentary Use

Source: NASA | Commentary Use

How does a hurricane form?

Ø  Begins as areas of tropical activity in tropical regions, called tropical waves

Ø  As area becomes more organised, the moisture condenses and clouds are forming

Ø  This process of condensation releases heat into the air

Ø  This heat causes the air to rise and expand which decreases air pressure

Ø  Area in surounding area starts to flow into the tropical wave (Air moves from areas of higher pressure to lower pressure)

Ø  The air also begins to become warmer and condense, creating a strengthening pattern

Ø  As more air begins to flow, the storm begins to grow stronger, the system of clouds and wind spins and grows

Ø  It will begin to rotate due to the Earth’s rotation, (Counterclockwise North, Clockwise South)

Ø  If conditions, remain suitable, the storm becomes stronger, forming a hurricane

Ø  As the storm roates faster, an eye forms in the centre, an area of low pressure

Ø  Higher pressure air from above flows down into the eye


So how does climate change increase the intensity?

There’s a well established physical law, the Clausius-Clapeyron equation that says a hotter atmosphere holds more moisture. For every degree celcius in warming, the atmosphere can hold 7% more water, which tends to make rainfall events more extreme. Therefore global warming caused by increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is raising temperature globally.

In addition, hurricanes use the energy from warm tropical oceans to build up energy and sustain it before making landfall. Therefore a warmer ocean means that there is increasing evaporation and more water vapour rising into the atmosphere, strengthening the hurricane which adds to the moisture and wind speeds, therefore increasing the intensity and rainfall.

How was this shown in Hurricane Harvey?

Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm made landfall on August 25th 2017

The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are about 1.5 degrees warmer than the period from 1980-2010.

A study in the Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) finds that Hurricane Harvey’s seven day rainfall total potentially increased by at least 19% up to 38% compared to a similar storm in the mid-20th century.

In this study. Researchers used a statistical model based on historical climate data to separate how much of the extreme rainfall from Hurricane Harvey was due to natural influences and how much was from human influences. It estimated the amount of precipitation that would have fallen in an event of the same magnitude using 1950s greenhouse gas levels.

The study authors expected a 6% increase in rainfall due to warming in the Gulf of Mexico.

Another study from the Environmental Research Letters (ERL) finds that climate change made the record three-day rainfall that fell over Houston roughly three times more likely and 15% more intense than a similar storm in the early 1900s.

Overall, the chances of seeing a rainfall event as intense as Harvey have roughly tripled - somewhere between 1.5 and five times more likely - since the 1900s and the intensity of such an event has increased between 8 percent and 19 percent, according to the new study by researchers with World Weather Attribution.

Other factors

A hurricane is just a storm, it’s not the disaster.

The impacts on Houston was considered a disaster due to the damage the hurricane inflicted. What likely increased the severity of this event is due to the fact that the Houston population has increased by 40% since 1990, with many people too poor to afford insurance or evacuate.


Climate is certainly increasing the effects of hurricanes. Not only do warmer oceans create stronger winds, as it rises to the atmosphere it can also hold more moisture forming greater clouds and increasing rainfall.

The effects in the future are likely to become worse as climate change continues to happen. Mitigation via regulations and adaptations such as defences and repairing buildings are key to the safety of civilian populations.

China’s Blessed and Cursed Political Geography

China is one of the world’s fastest growing countries today with a population of almost 1.4 billion people and historically consistent rates of high economic growth in the past few decades. Many of this development can be attributed to China’s geographical advantage, but what problems does it pose?

The Good: Agriculture

The beginning of the Chinese civilisation often starts with the Yellow River civilisation. The floodplain, which undergoes yearly flooding, contains highly fertile alluvial soil which allows this area to be one of the best agricultural land in the world. This is only one example.

Agriculture within China | Commentary use

Agriculture within China | Commentary use

In fact, a large part of Eastern China provides a climate warm and wet enough for many crops to grow in large proportion. This allows a process called double cropping. Once the main crop of rice is cultivated in June and July, another slightly less productive crop can be planted for October cultivation. This increases rice output by about 25% meaning that China benefits from growing more food in the same amount of land. In comparison, Europe relies on wheat as the main crop which only provides 4 million calories per acre, whereas rice here can grow up to 11 million calories per acre.

The Bad: Geographical protection in the South

To the south of China, it border three countries: Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar

Countries surrounding China | Commentary use

Countries surrounding China | Commentary use

None of these borders were set environmentally, but instead arbitrarily by humans at war. Combined, these three countries have 1 million active military personnel compared to the 2 million in China. If a significant conflict were to break out between the countries, the challenge to China would not be as easy as expected. While China does have a technological advantage, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar all have a environmental advantage. They are all jungle countries, one of the most difficult environments for warfare. As seen historically with the Vietnam War, it is an incredibly difficult terrain to move troops in, slowing down any advancing military. Therefore, it would be significantly easier for these three countries to invade China than the reverse.

The Good: Tibet

As most people are aware, China and India are not friendly neighbours. In fact, they cannot seem to get along with each other shown by the border disputes in the Doklam plateau this past summer. That is why Tibet is so important to China.

The borders of China, Tibet and India | Commentary use

The borders of China, Tibet and India | Commentary use

Tibet was historically a separate empire until recent decades, with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army invading the independent Tibet in 1950. Since then, Tibet has been established as an autonomous region, meaning that it is still under the sovereignty of the Chinese central government, but has some separate decision making. The Tibetan people are also ethnically different from the majority Han Chinese people we see in Eastern China today.

Only 0.2% of China’s population live in Tibet, which occupies 13% of the total land area. In fact, there are more people in the city centres of large cities such as Beijing or Shanghai, than the entirety of Tibet.

But it serves a purpose…

If China didn’t rule Tibet, than India would, maybe in an informal manner. There is little chance that Tibet can be independent economically and militarily without being dependent on one of the two neighbouring countries. Therefore, China knows that it could not allow an India Tibet.

Tibet acts as the Geographical protection between the main eastern areas of China and India. It extends China’s borders to the Himalayas and serves as an incredibly difficult land to cross due to the existence of the world’s tallest mountain range and the existence of the Tibetan plateau.

In addition, it simply does not have the infrastructure needed for India to advance the number of troops needed to invade China.

The weak link: Water

China also needs Tibet for water purposes. The whole eastern region of high agricultural productivity exists because of Tibet. The Yellow and Yangtze River, China’s two largest rivers has sources originating from Tibet. Therefore any possibility that Tibet comes under foreign control would pose a threat to the food supply of the country

The Yellow River | Commentary use

The Yellow River | Commentary use

The threat: The eastern ocean

While some may view the ocean as a strategic locational advantage, it is not the case in China. Arguably the world’s most powerful country, the United States have a strong Pacific military presence with bases in South Korea, Japan and Guam. It’s also a strong ally with Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Therefore in the possible event of a serious dispute with China, the US would have no problem blockading China’s maritime activities.

This is one of the reasons why China has spent so much effort establishing political sovereignty in the South China Sea, building military bases and artificial islands.

China can however, rely on building up relations with the Philippines, allowing it access to the Pacific, especially as China is heavily relies on trades in the form of imports and exports.

In summary, China does not have bad Geography, it’s actually pretty good. However, in the unlikely scenario of conflict, China does have weaknesses in Geographic protection which may hinder China’s chances of winning a conflict.