Frontiering the Chinese “West”: a Closer Look

Page 10

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Though cotton and esp. Xinjiang cotton were “star” crops under the XPCC’s diversification program (Xinjiang in fact accounts for perhaps 7% of the production gains between 1981 and 2008), they feed the export (intra- and extra-) textile markets through yarn and cloth production, not (simply) raw goods, so are highly impacted by global (urban, 1st world included) demand shifts as well of course as resulting price movements. The stuttering of the all-China market, which (as we have seen) is reflected in the downward revision of 2015 (12th FYP) for Xinjiang, reflects this slack, which in turn effects (makes more competitive) prices for S. Asian product, the most vulnerable being India and Pakistan, who are or will be under pressure to dump, a position that only further encourages Chinese mills to prefer imports even at the 40% tariff penalty regime of the WTO system. Only consistent upgrade in yield through compression of acreage and more/better irrigation can make Xinjiang’s lead commodity export-effective – that is, within China – and as XPCC and the planners have accepted, these improvements may prove too slow or expensive.

Market forces, it would seem, have an insidious way of intruding into even the most enlightened of planning programs. But it will not be easy to abandon or yield ground to them because of the Uighur ethnic “issue:, so closely bundled with the fate of the cotton crop.

Contrary to the tourist-poster image of Uighur women cheerfully plucking grapes from their vines, “fruit” or “orchard” agriculture was not among the commodity matrices chosen for state reinforcement of non-subsistence production. Rather, cotton, sugar beet, and, indirectly, livestock feed (mainly maize) to boost cross-border meat (mainly mutton and evidently ? pork) exports were anointed as frontier-expanders, which meant the introduction of price incentives, and an augmented supply of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as well as allowing a certain degree of kulak-like “plantationizing”. (An on-the-fly journalist, for example, reports just this past June (2014) that he had watched a certain Abdullah Arkin/Arken in Shaya county, smack in the middle of the Tarim Aksa “oasis” (S. Xinjiang), standing on the border of a huge cotton field watching the newly greened cotton plants waving in the wind as far as the eye could see, as his multitude of hired field hands 雇来的工人们 went about the job of drilling boreholes for the new plants to burst through, and calculating his likely net return….” ( A far cry from the way cotton etc. were produced during the Great Leap Forward).

Among these market intended crops, there can be no doubt that raw cotton (pi mian) in/or in freight-car bales, is the winner – so much so that last year a program was announced to stabilize or even contract sown acreage around a “best yield” 10 million mu core, so as to stem the conversion of wheat acreage (less so maize) to cotton, though where and under what kind of control this “core” will locate is not clear, nor is it clear what will happen (negatively) to the remaining 15 million mu at this point still farmed in cotton – presumably they will be worked with lowered levels of input subsidies for energy, pesticide and irrigation. The drop in (projected) yield from 139/140 kg/mu to 125 kg/mu for the entire 25 million mu seems to forecast a much steeper fall-off for that 15 million mu non-core segment, and something like a sustained 140 or better yield for the 10 million “best”.

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