Commentary: How China ensured no one went hungry during coronavirus lockdown


China has been beefing up its food security since 1998, says an observer.

Community workers and volunteers wearing face masks sort and pack groceries from a supermarket, Wuhan, China. (Photo: Reuters)

Zhenzhong Si

(Updated: )

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WATERLOO, Canada: At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 230 million people in China faced mobility restrictions in what was the largest quarantine in human history.

One of the top concerns for government officials and citizens alike was access to food. Sporadic reports of panic buying, food price spikes and concerns about the freshness of food appeared on Chinese social media.



Yet food supplies and food prices in China have remained stable.

Because food shortages might become a severe challenge for many countries amid the rapid spread of the virus all over the world, theres a lot to learn from Chinas food security measures.

READ: Commentary: Farmers hold key to feeding Asia amid COVID-19 restrictions

READ: Commentary: Farmers hold key to feeding Asia amid COVID-19 restrictions




An important factor in maintaining food security was the diversity of urban food outlets in Chinese cities. The epidemic provided an unexpected boost to online food markets run by the private sector, known as “new retail business” in China.

While millions were stuck at home, online food markets became the food retail option of choice. In cities where e-commerce in shops and restaurants is well-established, food buying was quickly transferred from offline to online.

Its estimated people under 25 buying fresh produce from online markets skyrocketed by more than 250 per cent and patrons above 55 increased by almost 400 per cent.

Some of the most popular online food markets experienced sales boosts of 470 per cent year-on-year.

READ: Commentary: Has COVID-19 made e-commerce and online shopping the new normal?

Many residents in the virus-hit city of Wuhan, China, are depending on online group-buying services to get food AFP/STR

Millions of online food orders are placed every day and delivered to peoples doorsteps or to lockers within housing complexes for pick-up.


The success of online food markets in China wouldnt have been possible without the long-term implementation of the states urban food security policy known as the “vegetable basket programme”.

Proposed in 1988, the programme mandates that city mayors are responsible for the provisioning, affordability and safety of non-grain foods, particularly fresh produce and meat.

Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, was among 35 other major cities assessed directly by the central government once every two years for its performance in implementing the programme.

READ: Commentary: How Wuhan mobilised to survive an over-70 day COVID-19 lockdown – and bounced back

READ: Commentary: In the time of COVID-19, China is revolutionising deliveries and e-commerce

Cities got good marks for improvements like delivery facilities in residential compounds such as passcode-protected cabinets for dropping off and picking up food, and the availability and accessibility of other types of food outlets such as supermarkets, small food shops and most importantly wet markets.

The strict evaluation ensured the diversity and extensive network of food sources for fresh produce and meat in every neighbourhood. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, high-scoring cities were able to adapt and ensure food security.

Local governments set specific goals for self-sufficiency rates of different kinds of food to demonstrate their commitments to the vegetable basket programme.

The city of Nanjing, for example, with a population of eight million, set a goal of 90 per cent self-sufficiency for leafy vegetables for the period of 2008 to 2012.

READ: Why in a cheap food paradise, some Singaporeans are still going hungry

FILE PHOTO: A resident uses a mobile phone to pay for vegetables purchased through group orders in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

These local food production goals were accompanied by strict plans for farmland protection within the jurisdiction. Chinese cities typically have large areas of townships outside central urban districts. Farmland in these townships is protected for the purpose of implementing the vegetable basket programme.


Food security in China is also reinforced by a food reserve system. The Chinese government has long operated a system of procuRead More – Source


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