China will become the world’s largest importer of agriculture products in 5 to 10 years as the country faces shrinking farmland and other constraints in production, a top Chinese government researcher told the Beijing Times. China is already the world’s top importer of soy and cotton.

The country’s agriculture faces challenges that include small-scale production, per-capita acreage that is less than 40 percent of the world’s average, under-developed organizational structure as well as little scientific and technological support, Cheng Guoqiang, a researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council said.

China, the world’s second-largest consumer of corn and top consumer of pork as well as a major consumer of sugar, has already increased imports of these commodities this year as domestic production falls behind fast growing demand, the researcher said.

To cope with the country’s rapidly growing demand for farm products the country’s top state-owned trading house, COFCO Co. Ltd, will spend more than $10 billion to fund overseas mergers and acquisitions in the next five years in a number of exporting countries, including the United States, Australia, and Southeast Asia, the company said. “Because of the nation’s limited agricultural resources, we have to look overseas.  The next 10 years will be a period of fast growth in China’s consumption of foodstuffs, including poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy products,” a COFCO board member was cited as saying.  In July, COFCO bought a 99-percent stake in an Australian sugar company and, in 2008, purchased a 4.95-percent stake in Smithfield Foods, Inc.

China has said it aims to remain largely self-sufficient in grains over the next five years.