China uses about 60% of the soybeans produced globally—and demand is increasing by at least 5% each year. The country is working through trade agreements, offering to buy infrastructure and do whatever it takes to feed its appetite, but why not grow their own?
Soybeans originated in China, though breeding and other advancements mean the plant is much more productive than when it was originally cultivated. The country, in theory, has the right climate to grow the legume.
According to Fast Company, “China’s hunger for soybeans is a window into an encroaching environmental crisis,” depleting resources mean the country simply can’t meet its own needs.
“In northern China, where soybeans were once traditionally grown, water tables are dropping at a rate of up to 10 feet a year. Northern China (and parts of the west) is running out of water. The remaining water in rivers and streams is so polluted that the government has a daunting sanitization task. Add the effects of desertification–drifting sands covering cropland at the rate of 1,400 square miles (that’s like adding a new desert larger than Rhode Island) every year–and it’s nearly impossible to grow soybeans in northern China.”
With an estimated 5% to 8% demand growth each year experts say China’s demand will soon outstrip global soybean production, reports Fast Company.
“China now finds itself squarely in the crosshairs of a wicked dilemma driven by the very real, twin threats of Earth’s changing climate and the overuse that has polluted and drained its existing water supplies. For now, the country is solving its food problems exacerbated by extreme water scarcity issues in the north by forging massive trade deals for soybeans and even livestock in places like the U.S. and Brazil.”
Read more about China’s environmental and infrastructure challenges in “China’s hunger for soybeans is a window into an encroaching environmental crisis."