BEIJING, CHINA — A new law in China that holds central and provincial governments accountable for incorporating food security into their economic and development plans went into effect on June 1, pushing “absolute self-sufficiency” in staple grains to the forefront.

The law provides a legal framework for existing guidance by the Communist Party for local governments and the agricultural industry to raise food production, although it did not give details on how the law will be implemented, Reuters reported. It includes protection of farmland from being converted to other uses, protecting germplasm resources and preventing wastage.

China, the world’s biggest agricultural importer with the second-largest population at 1.4 billion people, has made reducing reliance on overseas suppliers a priority in recent years. China produces one-fourth of the world’s grain and feeds one-fifth of the world’s population with less than 10% of the world’s arable land.

Passed just six months after its first reading, the rush to adopt the food security law reflects China’s urgency to resolve issues that have curbed production, such as a lack of arable land and water resources, labor shortages and a lack of agriculture technology. Analysts told Reuters that the law is worded vaguely and may not have a significant impact on how China boosts food production.

The Communist Party will lead the implementation of a national food security strategy “that puts China first” by importing moderately and using advances in science and technology to boost production, according to a provision in the law.

“It shall adhere to the principle of storing grain in the ground and using technology to improve grain production,” the law said, to ensure “basic self-sufficiency in cereal grains and absolute self-sufficiency in staple grains for food use.” It also stipulates the formation of a national grain emergency plan and a food security monitoring system.

China expanded the definition of “coarse grains” to include millets and oats, in addition to sorghum, barley, buckwheat, mung beans and potatoes. Grains refers to wheat, rice, corn, soybeans and coarse grains.

The law also said China will “strengthen international food security cooperation and allow international grain trade to play its role.” It did not give details.

The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), issued in February 2022, called for annual grain production of no less than 650 million tonnes and meat production of 89 million tonnes. It also said retaining poverty eradication in rural areas, food security and seed development would be top priorities.

China is the world’s largest wheat producer, but also its largest consumer. The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Department of Agriculture is projecting China to harvest 138 million tonnes of wheat for marketing year 2024-25 and consume 146.5 million tonnes. The FAS sees corn production at 296 million tonnes with total consumption at 318 million tonnes, while soybean imports are forecast to reach 103 million tonnes, with just 19.6 million tonnes of production.