CSA: A new way to deal with food safety concerns in China?

By 46137 (flickr.com)

China is notorious for its unsafe food. While Americans go to weekly farmer’s markets to purchase products that they could get cheaper in supermarket, Chinese farmer’s markets are still waiting for effective regulations to meet food safety standards (read my previous blog about Chinese farmer’s markets). Now Chinese consumers are looking for a new wayto solve this problem, by running organic farms that is enlightened by Western community-supported agriculture (CSA) model, reported by USA Today.

Shi Yan, 28, a rural development expert, says she was inspired by the CSA model when working for six months in 2008 at the Earthrise farm in Madison, Minn. Shi says she shocked her parents by choosing the life of a peasant despite her degrees from a top Chinese university.

At the Little Donkey Farm, which she opened in 2009 in Beijing’s semi-rural suburbs, Shi hears from other people planning similar projects. “Their first question is usually ‘Can I make money from this?’ ” Shi says. “The purpose is not making money, but sustaining farmers on the land, and teaching city people the importance of protecting our planet and the soil.”

China has about 40 “real” CSA farms, she says. A CSA conference in Beijing last month attracted more than 250 people. At Shi’s farm, about 100 members pay to work their own plot of land and 500 members pay a $600 annual fee for a weekly supply of vegetables grown without the chemical fertilizers and pesticides used on most Chinese farms.

I think organic farm is a promising industry in China – maybe it is not attractive to most of the Chinese right now, but it will be the trend. Think about the booming young consumers who are like Shi Yan in this story: they were born in 1980’s, a generation that never worry about lack of food. They went to college to receive high education. They are picky about their lifestyle and life quality. They have more connections with the outside world through the Internet. All of these make them not easily be pleased by just having enough food to eat and not easily be fooled by mainstream propaganda.

But the CSA model also cannot avoid an issue: regulation. Without a complete and effective food regulation supervising the whole process, speculators who only care about “Can I make money from this?” will ruin the CSA farming industry in China. How could they establish their regulation system, either depending on government or contracts? It is going to be an issue haunting this emerging industry for a long time.

Watch videos from Youtube to learn more about CSA:

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About Yifei Liu
I am a senior research assistant at International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). I received a master’s degree in journalism from UW-Madison with a focus on international and economic reporting in 2011 and a B.A in journalism from Renmin University of China in 2009. I am now living in Alexandria, VA.

2 Responses to CSA: A new way to deal with food safety concerns in China?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Yifei,
    I found your article very interesting because I am thinking about the same thing. I am at Cornell, Ithaca, doing some research related to CSA, and wondering how to bring this idea back to China.
    At some point, I think it might be a good idea to get together the people who are concerned about sustainable food system, and set up a non-profit organization to do something, especially for solving China’s food safety issue. My background is mostly Food Science. When it comes to public communication, I really lack of confidence. If you are interested in my idea, maybe we can talk more about it sometime.
    My name is Jihong Zhang. here is my email address: jz433@cornell.edu

    Good article.

    • Yifei Liu says:

      Hi Jihong,

      Thank you very much for your comments on my article. And it is so glad to know that there are some researchers like you thinking of bring the idea of CSA back to China. I think it is an important issue that we can work on together. I will send you an email later to discuss further. Thank you again!

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