What is in this article?:
- Milo Hamilton, rice marketing expert, explains issues facing Asia in bid to feed growing populations.
- Hamilton: "I argue that rice is a political and cultural ‘cement’ that holds Asia together."
- Water rights/use growing concern.
On Chinese water issues…
“The problem in China is water. The average estimate of global stress is 1,000 cubic meters per year per capita. In China, it’s 250 cubic meters per capita per year, on average. In the case of Beijing, it’s 100 cubic meters.
“Their water tables are collapsing and the water is also polluted. In the Pearl River Valley there are farmers that won’t eat the rice they grow. I’ve never seen that before, a farmer that will not eat what he grows. The reason is they have toxic waste – cadmium and others things – that cause problems for kidneys.
“Fifty percent of China’s 50,000 rivers are drying up. Fifty percent of the water in urban areas is undrinkable.
“They’re now going to transport water from the south to the north, where most of the agriculture and population is located. In addition, China wants to go green so they’ll increase their hydroelectric capacity from 9 percent to 16 percent in the next decade. Almost all of that, except the Three Gorges Dam, will be in the south since that’s where the most water is.
“Now, if you increase damming of the rivers, there will be consequences. The fact is, 70 to 80 percent of all the trade in rice comes out of the countries south of China. The headwaters of the five rivers are largely under Chinese control. From time to time, as those dams are built, the river water levels are likely to diminish.
“China controls the headwaters that go into Pakistan, India, Vietnam, Burma. The only country in the Far East spared this is Thailand, a unique animal. Thailand is kind of like the United States in that sense. We have the Mississippi River and control all our water in the territory. That’s not the way it is in Asia, in Europe. In most of the world, water is shared between countries that may or may not be friendly.
“So, China wants to increase its rice and wheat production to be totally self-sufficient. The problem with that is they’ve been increasing rice production for 10 years and, due to the subsidy program, their rice is 2.4 times more expensive than rice grown in India.”