BEIJING, April 13 (Reuters) – Planting of corn in one of China’s major producing areas could be delayed as many of the region’s millions of farmers struggle to return home from temporary city jobs because of strict coronavirus lockdowns.
Any delay to planting could hit output in the world’s No. 2 corn producer, where corn prices are already hovering at record levels, and government support for soybeans also threatens to reduce growing of the grain.
China’s northeastern provinces, its bread basket, have endured weeks of restrictions on movement, with the toughest measures in Jilin province where COVID-19 cases soared in early March.
With the critical time for sowing grain fast approaching, some farmers remain stuck and are getting increasingly worried, despite recent government pledges to tackle the issue.
“I need to tend my land immediately, but I can’t go back. I am so anxious,” a farmer surnamed Wang told Reuters on Tuesday from Changchun, the capital of Jilin.
The problem highlights the challenge for China in balancing its strict zero-COVID policy with its high priority on food security.
Fertiliser supplies to the region have also been disrupted by the transport curbs, and farmers are already facing record prices of the crop nutrient as well as diesel and other costs.
As thousands of farmers took to social media last week to vent their frustrations with the situation, the Jilin government stepped in to organise special transport.
Smallholder farmers in China typically take manual jobs in cities over the winter months when farming activity stops.
Nearly 100,000 stranded farmers had returned home by April 10, according to the local authorities.
Planting is “slightly delayed, but the impact will not be big,” said the state-backed Farmers Daily on Monday.
It is not clear how many farmers were still stuck in cities in Jilin or further afield due to the virus measures.
“I have requested permission to go home but the community has not yet approved it. I don’t know the reason,” another farmer surnamed Lu, also stuck in Changchun, told Reuters.
Wang and four other farmers have repeatedly called the city, county and village authorities for help but to no avail, he said.
Though Wang has prepared fertilizer and seeds for his 1-hectare farm, he still needs to clear the corn stalks from last year’s crop and prepare the land before the end of the month.
“For spring planting, it has to be done in these few days when you have the right temperature. If you miss it, you will harvest less grain in the autumn,” he said.