Happy Individuals, Weeping Land

 

Huaxi Village, from Wang Zhiming’s blog

In this village, people live in multi-storey villas with two-car garages and nicely trimmed gardens. The K-12 education is free to all residents. Men over 55 years old and women over 50 receive pensions every month from the local government. The healthcare system is so developed that residents’ medical costs are 100 percent covered.

 

Not in Norway or in Sweden, the village is in China. Take a two-hour drive from Shanghai into southeastern Jiangsu Province, and search for a small town called Huaxi Village, you will find it, whose well-known name is “the richest village in China”.

Surprise? Believe it or not, wealthy villagers in Huaxi Village are not alone in China. They are in Shaanxi Province, in Shanxi Province, in Sichuan Province, in Yunnan Province, you list.

That’s a pretty happy story, isn’t it? But the story hasn’t finished yet. If you look closely to these people, you will find out that no matter where they are, they often have a same characteristic: their wealth has nothing to do with agriculture. Some open clothing factories, others exploit coal mine. In Huaxi’s case, villagers operate 12 main factories covering textile, clothing, steel and non-ferrous metal industries, with a total turnover of 40 billion Yuan (6 billion USD) in 2006.

In other word, the only way for Chinese villagers to get rich is not to be peasants any more. The sooner they escape from agriculture, the richer they could possibly get. What an irony.

Pressured by the central government’s “GDP-lism”, those local governments are eager to maximize their economic income from the land to compete with their counterparts in the government performance measurement. Driven by the greediness for money, individual peasants, businessmen and official authorities have the same motive of turning the arable land into something else more profitable. As a result, the worst-case scenario for agriculture is happening in China: the expropriation of farmland has increased 15-fold over the past decade. Until the end of 2008, the total amount of arable land in China is 1.82574 billion acre, accounting for 12.68 percent of China’s total land area, a per-capita average of less than 1.4 acres.

It is so close to 1.8 billion acre, officially called the “bottom red line” for China’s agriculture, a goal set by Chinese central government in 2006 and highlighted in the Outline of China’s the Eleventh Five-year Plan, which is almost the most important and practical governing guideline of Beijing government.

Beijing government may not be the one to blame for the problem. Having been trying to solve the problem, the Central Committee repealed agriculture tax in 2006. The Ministry of Land and Resources also supervised the local governments not to seize the cultivable land in many ways. But after years’ endeavor, the Ministry of Land and Resources still discovered 8514 cases of illegally using land in 2009, 33. 7 percent of which was happened in cultivable land.

The problem is not coming from the policy. The problem is coming from the pocket of every individual: the peasant who is desperate to get out of the poverty, the businessman who greedily stares at the underground coal mine, and the official authority who want to build more factories, develop more industries, and in turn, have a great governing reputation of high economic growth, of course, and get more tax.

Can you change any of these people’s minds? Do you dare to draw any money out of their pocket?

I am afraid no one can.

That comes to the end of the story: a bunch of happy individuals, and a weeping land.

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Tomato, Ketchup and China

By An& (Flickr.com)

Most Chinese don´t know ketchup. If you say “ketchup” to a Chinese who just comes to the United States, I bet he/she will look at you strangely, and ask, “What?” I remember when I first came to America last August, I got off the plane at Chicago O’Hare Airport, brought some fries at McDonalds, and asked for “tomato sauce”.

“Tomato sauce”, that is what we call all the processing tomato food  in China. Most Chinese only use it with fries or pizzas in Western restaurants. Chinese cuisine doesn’t have it at all.

Not only ketchup, tomato also has a foreign identification. Four centuries ago, in the middle of Chinese Ming Dynasty, European missionaries followed the Silk Road on their journey to ancient China, bringing seeds of tomatoes and other Western plants. Chinese accepted the tomato, and began to plant it in its own land. The tomato found a new home there, also a new name, “foreign eggplant” (fan qie) in Mandarin.

The ancient European missionaries didn’t expect China accepts tomatoes much easier than bibles, and they would never know China could become one of the world’s largest tomato paste producer and exporter one day. But it is a true story. China, the country where people have no appetite for ketchup, without mentioning other tomato processing food, has only been growing processing tomatoes since the mid to late 1970s, has made a surprising growth in tomato processing industry. Its export volumes of processing tomatoes rose from 100,000 tonnes in 1999, the year that China marked its debut in international tomato market, to 600,000 tonnes in 2005.

In 2009, China exported 8.65 million tons processing tomato products to 150 countries, rising up 35.1% from a year earlier, and increasing the market share to 20.5% in the global processing tomato export market. In particular, the export volume to Italy, Russian Federation and Nigeria accounted for 13%, 12.1% and 6.8% respectively.

The main regions for the tomatoes industry are in Xinjiang Province, a plateau to a number of Muslim ethnic groups, used to be a landlocked frontier crossroad on the ancient Silk Road, and followed by Inner Mongolia and Gansu Province. The dry continental climate there is an ideal condition for tomato growth. The long daylight hours, sufficient sunshine and the significant temperature difference between day and night are all good for sugar and lycopene accumulating inside the crop.

It is a promising industry. But for those farmers living in Xinjiang, tomato is more than just a business. It is a way of life. Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, an affiliate lead by Xinjiang local government and Beijing, have more than one million employees, most of whom were soldiers, or ex-convicts, who had been sent to the remote barrens, “being reformed through labor” in Chinese political term. Those Han Chinese have been living in this land for decades. Their sons and daughters have grown up, gone to college or had their own jobs. No matter which regions of China they came from, now they are all Xinjiang farmers (though their official identification is “farming soldier”), sinking roots in this plateau, turning the wild land into a fertile spot.

In spite of the boom, Chinese tomato processing industry has its troubles. The irrigation system needs to be improved. The poor transportation causes the tomatoes rotten before reaching the tomato processing plants. The non-brand tomato processing products are given a “made in Italy” label after exporting to Europe and being reprocessed in Italian small plants. China wants its homemade brand, while Europe chides China for dumping products into oversea market.

From "Apple and Tomato Chains in China and the EU" by Xiaoyong Zhang, Huanguang Qiu, Zhurong Huang

The change will not come about by itself. Chinese tomato processing industry should reinforce its agricultural research, improve the rural transportation, develop a better management system to meet the international quality standard, and engage in building its international reputation. The industry with only a history of four decades is still too young. It should learn, learn and learn more, before it boasts its large exporting volume.

Agriculture and Economy

By Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (Flickr.com)

I am going to write blogs on agriculture and economy in China and the world in this semester.

I am really excited about it! Agriculture is an industry so important for the world economy and for China, but it never comes to my mind before. A totally new topic for me. I love the feeling of exploring a new field that I never know.

I am going to focus on the undeveloped agriculture in China and its counterpart in the United State. Why does China still need to import wheat, rice, corns from the United States and other countries, while there are nine hundred millions farmers and plenty of farming lands in China? why the rural area in China is so undeveloped while the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai are rich enough to complete with New York?

Another issue I am interested in is open market’s impacts on Chinese agriculture after China joining  WTO in 2001. What are the trends of  food export and import during the nine years? What role does Chinese agriculture play in the international market?

So many issues come to my mind, I just can not wait to know everything.

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