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This Bystander has been trying to piece together the economic effects of this year’s rains, floods and landslides on the year’s harvests and so food prices. Though the official number for direct economic damage from this year’s extreme weather is high, more than 350 billion yuan ($51.4 billion), it turns out the picture is surprisingly benign when it comes to food supplies. What nature takes away with one hand, she seemingly returns with the other
Damage to farmland has been localized though widespread and severe where it happened: 13 million hectares lost, according to the count of the U.N’s Food and Agriculture Organization, primarily across Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Chongqing, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Shaanxi and Gansu. The Ministry of Civil Affairs puts the number of hectares of flooded farmland at 16.5 million, a higher number than the FAO’s but which may have a lower bar of damage.
Set against that a record winter wheat crop harvested in June (that harvest accounts for 95% of annual wheat production: the picture above is from Xian in Shaanxi at the end of May), despite the extreme weather. A similarly record cereal crop (maize for livestock feed and rice) is expected, too. Though the much smaller spring wheat planting now being gathered will have been reduced by the cold snap in the northeast at sowing, the 2010 wheat crop overall is expected to be 114 million tonnes, within a percentage point of last year’s record. The maize crop is being forecast at 166 million tonnes, which would be a high, and rice, more tentatively, at 196 tones, which would also be a record. Meat and poultry production has also been running at record levels, one reason the demand for maize has been so high.
All that, higher government subsidies for wheat and rice production, and decent stockpiles from last year are keeping food prices stable.
The human loss is easier to catalogue, if less palatable: 3,185 lives lost, according to the latest official estimate, with at least 1,060 still missing; 12 million have been displaced.