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Grain rotting in China after bumper crop

Published Oct. 18, 2005

China is pouring grain into movie theaters, auditoriums and army camps because inadequate storage space and poor government control after a bumper harvest have led to rotting mountains of food. The official Economic Information newspaper said Sunday that "tens of millions of tons" of grain were sitting in the open, to be joined by much more when the autumn harvest is completed.

Officials estimate that China this year will reap a record 420-million tons of grain, which according to the Chinese definition also includes beans and potatoes among other crops.

But Economic Information cautioned against complacency, noting that due to China's annual 15-million or so population increase, this year's per capita grain output was less than in 1984.

The newspaper blamed decentralization of the 1980s, which left provinces without enough money or the will to build storage facilities.

Because of the lack of central control from Beijing, protectionism between provinces meant that grain was not moving around the country.

Farmers were paid too little for their grain by the state and could not afford to build storage themselves. Some even had to sell their produce to the state and then buy it back later.

Local commercial offices, army camps, theaters, meeting halls and auditoriums were being used to store the grain mountain. "But who knows whether it will finally be enough to solve the problem?" the newspaper said.

Agriculture was made the government's top economic priority this year in what diplomats said was an attempt to ward off disaffection that led to last year's mass protests in China's cities.

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