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Extreme weather and war in Ukraine bring food security into sharp focus in China

At the Institute of Urban Agriculture in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, professor Yang Qichang said that indoor vertical farming had allowed them to “achieve year-round growth” of wheat in an artificial environment. 

“The growth cycle of wheat usually takes 120 to 150 days,” he said. “Now the wheat in the breeding base can be harvested in about 55 to 65 days, which means the growth cycle is shorter.” 

He added that this meant there was the potential for five or six harvests a year instead of one or two.   

Already the world’s biggest food producer, China is also the biggest food importer. The country imported more than 140 million tons of grains last year, the equivalent of 21% of its annual domestic grain production.

Amid tensions with the U.S., which was its biggest agricultural supplier before a trade war began in 2018, Beijing has turned to countries such as Brazil and Argentina for food imports, while ramping up efforts to ensure food security and carrying out a high-profile campaign against food waste.

Yang Qichang of the Institute of Urban Agriculture with NBC News’ Janis Mackey Frayer in Chengdu.Fred Dufour / NBC News

“We cannot control the environment in an open field,” Yang said, adding that indoor growers could control the temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide, as well as plant nutrient systems. 

“Inside there is no drought, there is no flood. There are no extreme weather patterns to worry about,” he said. 

“Because we can control the environment of this kind of system,”  he said, “we can grow food everywhere.”

Janis Mackey Frayer reported from Chengdu, and Henry Austin from London.