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China Looks to Ukraine for Food

America is the world's largest food exporter. But the worst drought in half a century is hitting corn and wheat harvests. The drought across the central United States adds to concerns about world food supplies and prices in the coming years. Experts say by 2050, the world will have to produce at least 60 percent more food to feed a population growing bigger and richer.

China, a major food importer, is looking to producers around the world to guarantee future food supplies. China has invested in food production in Australia and New Zealand. A new source of supply is Ukraine.

Ukraine was known as the breadbasket of Europe because of rich corn and wheat harvests a century ago. Galyna Kovtok is chief executive of Ukraine's largest agricultural business, ULF. She predicts that within a few months her company will be approved to export corn to China. That will make Ukraine the first country outside the Americas to do so.

ULF will soon have almost 2 million tons of elevator storage capacity as it prepares for the Chinese market. Chinese money is financing the building of six grain elevators. But the company's equipment is largely American, including half-million-dollar John Deere combines to harvest wheat. ULF's grain production per hectare is now halfway between the Ukrainian average and the high yields of the American Midwest. But farming depends on the weather. Across the Black Sea area -- in Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan -- drought this year is pushing harvests down 15 to 20 percent.

Traditionally, the Black Sea region is the main source of wheat for North Africa and the Middle East. But this year, on the supply side, Russia may have to suspend exports. And, on the demand side, Africa and the Middle East are now competing with China. At the same time, a new report says large parts of Asia may face long periods of severe drought within 10 years.

The report is from the British-based Center for Low Carbon Futures, a network of universities. It says northern China, India, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Pakistan will be especially hard hit. It says other parts of Asia are likely to face longer and wetter monsoon seasons because of climate change. Andrew McConville works for the agricultural technology company Syngenta. He says a lack of new investment in technology to help farmers improve productivity has caused problems for agriculture.

For VOA Special English, I'm Alex Villarreal.(Adapted from a radio program broadcast 07Aug2012)