The Chinese leadership is planning to increase soyabean production in a bid to secure domestic grain supply, according to a South China Morning Post (SCMP) report.

China’s efforts to increase domestic production of soyabeans and other oil crops could accelerate the approval of genetically modified (GM) seeds and lead to the reorganisation of the country’s seed industry, analysts were quoted as saying in the 27 December report.

At a central rural work conference in December, China’s top leadership set a production target for this year at least equivalent to this year’s 650M tonnes, according to the report.

“The general consideration next year is to stabilise domestic grain supplies and corn output, while expanding soyabean and oil crop production,” agriculture minister Tang Renjian said in an interview with the official Economic Daily.

The Chinese government’s plan would involve the extension of corn/soyabean strip intercropping, he said, while the biggest growth potential would be from the improvement of seeds and per unit yield.

“There are still relatively large gaps with developed countries in terms of per unit yield of corn, soyabeans and other varieties,” Tang added.

China is the world’s largest buyer of agricultural products from soyabeans and corn, to rapeseed and palm oil, SCMP wrote.

However, the country’s vulnerability had been exposed amid trade tensions with major suppliers such as the USA and global farm commodity price increases, the report said.

“The soyabean trade, for instance, is closely related to political factors and diplomatic relations,” analyst Tian Yaxiong, from China Futures Co, said in a research note. “Reducing [foreign] dependence can help regain initiative in trade negotiations.”

China has proposed an overhaul of regulations governing GM crops, in a move that was likely to strengthen the nation’s seed industry amid heightened food security concerns, according to the report.

The agriculture ministry issued two draft documents in November detailing planned changes such as easing trial requirements for authorised GM crops, revising safety evaluations for GM organisms used in agriculture, encouraging companies and institutions to build their own research bases, and relaxing geographic restrictions on test areas, SCMP wrote.

Beijing’s bid to improve the resilience of its grain supply was in direct response to changes in global trade, according to analysts. However, more needed to be done, they said.

“There could be more policy support for the north-eastern regions in China to grow oil crops,” Tian said.

China imports about 20% of its edible oil requirements, with a particularly high dependence on foreign palm oil and soyabeans, according to the report.

However, the total estimated soyabean planted area is growing, with around 9.35M ha planted with soyabeans in 2019 compared to 6.8M ha in 2014, according to China Agricultural Information Net, an affiliate of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

The area used for soyabeans this year is estimated at 8.4M ha, while production is forecast at 16.4M tonnes.