Central Hebei, an agricultural demonstration base.
With its vast plains, Hebei Province had always been a chief grain producing area since ancient times. Moreover, the region had Bohai Sea on the east, the capital city within its geographical range, Taihang Mountain on the west, Yan Mountain on the north, and an urban agglomeration concentrated in the central and coastal areas. Such favorable natural conditions made it possible for the cities to stay relatively mutation-creatures-free.
This particular base was located in the academy of agricultural sciences. It had been there all along, but was expanded as a secret project a year ago. Its security level had been significantly raised and it was now unmistakably a scientific research facility of a strategic importance on a national level.
Two vehicles drove near from the distance and parked outside a building that looked like a greenhouse. The doors of the vehicle opened and an elderly man walked out.
"We are honored by your visit, Sir!" Several men in charge hurried near to greet him.
"Enough with the formalities. I'm here to see results today. Let's talk inside," said the old man sternly. He then strode out and entered the building first.
The rest of the team hurried after him and led him to Section One of Scientific Research, where they watched through the thick glass wall. On the other side were sticks of frosty-looking culture medium, which were overgrown with gray oyster mushrooms.
"This area is the size of one mu—as the unit used in farming. Ordinary oyster mushrooms will need around 45 days before their first harvest, and a growing period of between 15 to 20 days after that. After numerous experiments, we've managed to stabilize the harvest period to 20 days, with a yield of 10 000 kg per mu."
The specialist sighed with emotions as he explained, "This is such an excellent spawn. I've been studying mushrooms all my life and have never found anything this active before… oh, please take a look over there!"
He then came to himself and led the old man to another test greenhouse.
This one was much more peculiar. Edible fungi such as wood ear, snow ear, black mushrooms, and lawyer's wig covered the ground, yet the most eye-catching object was a gigantic mushroom growing in the center.
Its roots had risen above the ground and over a dozen mushrooms were growing out of this base, creating a large fairy ring. It had an umbrellshaped cap, which was big and curling inwards. Standing together in the middle, they looked like a small white forest.
"This is the giant St George's mushroom discovered at the beginning of this year in Luoqiping Village of Tengchong. We collected the spores for replanting and obtained this one, which is even bigger than the original. This one is as tall as 103 cm and the largest cap has a diameter of 37 cm. It also has a very short growth cycle. The growing out of the hyphae to maturity only takes days."
"Is it edible?"
"Um, we have tried some ourselves. The taste is hard to describe, but it's definitely not toxic."
The man in charge beckoned at the staff, who then brought out a small dish of processed mushroom shreds. The old man picked up a few and chewed on them without hesitation.
The shredded mushroom was slightly sweet at the first bite, then there was a tingly numbness in his mouth as if he had accidentally bit into Sichuan pepper. A moment later, there was the chewiness that reminded him of meat.
"Good. It can work both as a dish and as a condiment."
The old man nodded, having an idea of what was happening in this section. They then moved on to Section Two.
Potato was the only thing growing here. Several rounds had been planted and harvested so far, and the current one was not yet ready. All they saw were the green potato plants in the field. The specialist brought out some samples, and sounded a little abashed. "We have run multiple tests, but still couldn't find a way to increase the yield soon enough. The best performing batch so far had a yield per mu of around 1.4 tons. All the mutated species we found had some improvement in the taste, but nothing significant in the yield."
"You have done all you could. Don't have it weighing on your mind."
The old man comforted him with resignation.
The UN had long listed potato as one of the four major food crops and guaranteed its staple food status by providing the necessary planting area and scientific research, but the status of potato in this country had always been awkward.
Although 75% of the counties listed in the national poverty alleviation program had potato as their staple food, the government remained indifferent to its plantation. Not only was there barely any support program in planting potatoes, the planting area kept dropping.
Around 2005, the national planting area of potatoes plunged from 80 million mu to 60 million mu, and it was only recently that it had grown back to 80 million.
The yield was also problematic. The domestic average yield per mu was one ton, which had remained at that level for over thirty years, whereas the yield per mu of other countries could reach over two tons. The difference was too big to be overlooked.
The main reason behind all this lay in the great achievement in hybrid rice domestically, which had to some extent covered up part of the crisis.
"Don't worry. The government is coming up with new policies shortly. I'd like to give you a heads-up first." The old man patted the specialist on the shoulder and said, "From this year, potato is to be included in the grain reserve system. The plan is to expand the planting area to 180 million mu within three years and increase the yield per mu to over two tons. Meanwhile, there is going to be a comprehensive implementation of promoting various food made from whole potato flour."
That was a pleasant surprise! All the specialists present exulted at the news.
The common people might not understand the meaning of that decision, but they knew better. If the environment change continued, in a few years, the increase in the demand of food in the country would be over 50 billion kg!
Restrained by arable land resources and affected by mutated species, wheat and its cousins were likely to go extinct, and the maize family would be on their last legs. Only the lovely potato which could tolerate cold, drought, and barren land would flourish—it would soon no longer be considered a vegetable.
Whole potato flour would have its empire—not only could it be made into steam buns, noodles, bread, etc., it could also be stored for as long as 15 to 20 years.
Tsk, tsk, it seemed we had a savior here.
After they finished with the potato section, the group then introduced the old man to other scientific research areas dedicated to poultry, cattle, forest, flowers and plants, as well as key crops such as cotton, sesame, sugarcane, rubber, etc.
Their main focus was to collect mutated species around the country to raise them here and run tests so as to improve them in quality or yield. Everything was to prepare for the future.
Take the work on edible meat as an example. The specialists had discovered a mutated rat and rabbit species. The rat had dark yellow fur and the rabbit was spotty. Both had tender meat and great ability to spread. The two species were now widely found in various provinces across the country.
If things went as planned, the two species—named Yellow-fur Rat and Spotty Rabbit, respectively—would be the main source of meat in the future.
After a lengthy tour, there was only one section left. Unlike the rest of the sections, this one consisted of a large rice field. An old man in boots and his trouser legs pulled up was bending down in the field, busying himself around.
The visiting official felt the impulse to stand in respect, for he was looking at none other than the dear old man 1 that had been hailed as the "Modern Shennong 2 ".
To be honest, even with the great potential of potatoes in the future, rice remained the foundation of food in this country. Of all the thirty-six provinces, apart from Qingning, all the rest had their own rice-producing regions. There were 198 million households of rice farmers in this country, which totaled up to over 700 million people!
Just imagine that proportion!
Therefore, however difficult the situation turned, they could not give up on rice. They had to weather the storm.
From the government's perspective, they were having a very difficult time as well. The new era was unfolding and a million problems were waiting to be solved, both weighing them down. Fortunately, it was not a sudden death and they still had plenty of time to get prepared.
With reducing residential and arable areas, probably 90% of the population would end up living in the urban agglomerations, which gave rise to two key issues: food and housing.
With bread on the table and a roof over their head, the common people could live their days with stability.
"Master Yuan, to tell you the truth, the grain base in Heishui Province is over!"
The official dismissed the subordinates and strolled the field with the dear old man, who had been renowned for his achievement three predecessors before this official and had seen his fair share of big shots. Hence, this official found it unnecessary to act like one.
"Over?" The old man winced and murmured, "That's 70 million tons of crops we're talking about here!"
"Exactly! 70 million tons! It's still snowing out there and the cold wave is spreading, invading part of the grain-producing area. We've taken samples of the soil. Even if the snow melts next year, it will no longer be arable." The official paused a little and went on, "And there is also the area in Hunan along Dongting Lake. Based on our observation, the water level of the lake had a sudden rise this year, which has already affected many residents. We think that the lake is going to expand, so that's a very bad news for the grain base over there."
The country had nine major grain production bases: Taihu Lake Plain, Dongting Lake Plain, Bashu Plain, Pearl River Delta, Jianghan Plain, Jianghuai Region, Poyang Lake Plain, Songnen Plain, and the Three River Plain.
And now, two of those were gone!
The air felt heavy at the bad news and the two walked in silence for a while; then, the official chuckled. "Well, I'm not here today to complain but to hear about your good news. You've been working hard here for over a year. Any achievements?"
"Since last year, your people have found in turn four mutated wild rice plants, which we have raised and sowed in four bases at the same time. We have just harvested a new batch. You are now looking at three mu of land with the yield of 1581 kg, 1529 kg, and 1536 kg, respectively. The average yield per mu is 1548.66 kg and those of the other three bases are 1503 kg, 1538 kg, and 1545 kg."
The old man was 87 years old, which was reflected in his slightly slurred speech, but his mind remained sharp and his words well-organized. He knew all the data on rice production like the back of his hand.
"We have a yield per mu of over 1500 kg now?" The official was elated, for that was definitely world-record-breaking. He asked immediately, "Is that the final result?"
"No, that's just from rice No. 2. There is still room for improvement." The old man hesitated a little before saying, "I can't be more specific than that. I don't know the world these days very well, but if things continue like this, you might be able to find better wild rice plants. By then, we can probably have even greater breakthroughs."
The words were tactful, but the official could read between the lines. Back in the time of the Great Leap Forward, people boasted about a yield per mu of over 5000 kg. That figure could actually become true in the foreseeable future!
He never doubted the old man's statement, for that man had created real miracles. In ancient times, people would build temple for that old man and hail him as a god.
"How about sea rice? What yield are we looking at?" he asked another question.
"According to data collected in our Jiaodong base, we could achieve a yield of 300 kg irrigated by seawater with a salinity of 3-8‰. It's a matter worth rejoicing that those 280 million mu of saline-alkali land did not change much, or we would have been helpless." The old man sighed.
"Great! That is great news!"
The official almost felt like hopping around. After receiving bad news for days on end, there was finally something to smile for. If the sea rice technology could be fully developed, with a yield per mu of 200-300 kg, this county alone would have an increase of 50 billion kg in grain production.
There was a total of 14.3 billion mu of saline-alkali land on this planet!
Not only would this technology benefit mankind as a whole, it would also be immensely helpful in the international game, the exchange of interests, and vying for influence.
The domestic academia was overwhelmed by the pessimism that, with the recovery of the spiritual essence, the importance of science would wane. The old man had just slapped their faces with his work on rice. Although science seemed useless in cultivation so far, it remained indispensable in national economy and people's livelihood!
The rice he worked on was not the same as the spiritual rice.
The spiritual rice was extremely picky in its habitat. Based on their experience so far, it could grow nowhere else but in the nodes. Because of its scarcity and high value, the spiritual rice became part of the social rank system and was meant to be for the upper classes only.
The two left the field after a very long conversation.
A group of people went to see the official off at the gate. He was about to get into his vehicle when he spun around and held the old man's hands. "We're counting on you!"
He then held the hands of another specialist. "We're counting on you!
It was not an affected act, but a reflection of how critical the situation was. The members of the base were touched by his words; the man in charge was the last one to shake his hand.
"You have my word on this. We will give our all till our hearts stop beating! That's the least we could do!"
After over two years of survey and deliberation, the country finally made its great move on a national policy level.
One day in late October, a Urban and Land Overall Planning was issued, and in it, each measure was a fundamental system-breaking decision that would affect billions of people and bring benefit/disaster to the future generations.
32 urban agglomerations were to be established, including the capital-Tianjin-Hebei, Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, Jiaodong Peninsula, Guanzhong Plain, Sichuan-Chongqing, Central Shanxi, Central Guizhou, Central Yunnan, Northern Slope of Tianshan Mountain, Central South Liaoning, etc.
They were to be categorized into mega urban agglomerations (such as Yangtze River Delta), first-tier urban agglomerations (such as Sichuan-Chongqing), second-tier urban agglomerations (such as Central South Liaoning), and third-tier urban agglomeration (such as Northern Slope of Tianshan Mountain).
Each urban agglomeration must have no less than three metropolis circles or big cities and have at least one megacity or super city as its center. The population should be no less than 30 million and the economic density should be above 5 million yuan/km^2, and so on and so forth.
27 agricultural cultivation base groups were to be established in Wula Province, Liaodong Province, Henan Province, Anhui Province, Sichuan Province, Shandong Province, etc., which were to be classified by their properties, including commodity grain base, tropical crops base, timber base, etc.
As of today, potatoes were officially included in the state grain reserves. With the gradual decrease in the planting area of wheat and corn, farmlands dedicated to planting potatoes should increase at a steady pace. Relevant technologies and projects should be supported, so as to increase the yield and production of potatoes.
Article Three—and the most controversial one:
From the date of enforcement of this document, approval on commercial, residential, and various construction lands would cease in turn.
Regarding areas uninhabitable without a doubt, local governments should come up with suitable plans as soon as possible, organizing the masses to migrate safely.
There were a few more regulations, which we would not list here.
They might seem a brain-twister, so here went the translation.
One, with any luck, 90% of the population of this country would have to live in one of the 32 urban agglomerations.
Two, in the future, the food supply of the common people of this country would depend on those 27 agricultural bases.
Three, private developers could no longer purchase lands and build houses. Everything was to be planned by the government and state-owned businesses.
Four, those areas severely affected by mutated creatures should resettle their people quickly.
The actual grand strategy could be concluded in one sentence: wilderness encircling the cities. The online community erupted at this document.
"Gosh, are we falling back to the tube-shaped apartment 3 era?"
"Hahaha! The developers and property speculators can go to hell… but I still can't afford an apartment of my own!"
"Some losers get the windfall, while others are crying their eyes out."
Those were the mocking voices. There were also the level-headed ones.
"That's the only way. There are more freakish things out there. They can't average out the armed forces and we can't protect ourselves, so we have to move. Come to think about it, even if we all move to the cities, it may not be that crowded."
"My man upstairs, please elaborate on that."
"Because a lot of people are going to die in the process…"TL/N: referring to Yuan Longping, the Chinese agronomist and educator known for developing the first hybrid rice varieties in the 1970s. TL/N: meaning "divine farmer", a mythological Chinese deity in Chinese folk religion venerated as a mythical sage ruler of prehistoric China. TL/N: The so-called tube-shaped apartment building is a building with a corridor running through the main structure with rooms on both sides of it. Usually there are over ten families living on one floor, and each family lives in one room. Some rooms are used as kitchen, shared by three or four families, and the toilet is also shared.