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:


What could China learn from American agriculture?

I had a general idea of American farmers (mostly learned from news media and movies) before I came to the United States: having a very big farm; growing and harvesting large amount of crops with the help of modern machines; possessing the land as their private property; being well educated; and the most important part, getting decent incomes from their land. The life of American farmers sounded amazing for me, since what I learned in China is being a farmer equals to being a poor without much education (I mean the real farmer). But I was not surprised by it at all. I could easily assume that the productivity of land is credited to the improved technology and the scientific research on agriculture.

What I learn by reading four books of American agriculture confirms some of my assumptions, but completely turns over some others.

In the book A Revolution Down on the Farm: The Transformation of American Agriculture since 1929, the author Paul K. Conkin shows a general picture of the agriculture revolution in the past century, changing from a small family model to a large agribusiness model. He gives the credits to the new machines, the electrification, the chemical inputs and the plant and animal breeding, which confirms my assumption. But what I didn’t know is that the productivity revolution causes surpluses and lower prices, and leads to the government intervention, described by Paul as “an institutional framework for this growth”.

It is an interesting point for me: while the American government subsidy in farming is to reduce the amount of crops production, the Chinese government is subsidizing the agriculture industry to increase its production, in order to bring down the competitive disadvantage of Chinese crops in the international market, and to reduce the agricultural products imports from the United States. In the United States, the agriculture revolution took place spontaneously and smoothly in the middle 20 century; however in China, the competition from the international market gives the local agriculture industry too much pressure to grow healthily in the pace of nature. The pressure reflects on the Chinese government too, whose subsidy is only focusing on the industry’s total output, without doing enough scientific researches on how to increase the productivity. As a result, the land is overused: the arable land is decreasing rapidly in China.

But the agriculture revolution is not a good thing in all aspects, that’s what Wendell Berry talks in his book The Unsettling of AmericaCulture and Agriculture. The agricultural industry changes from a small family farming model to a large agribusiness model, at the same time, the role of the farmer changes from the nurturer to the exploiter. Farming is a form of business now, Wendell argues, “productivity combined with processing and marketing efficiency”, and the business management ability is more important than the real farming skills. The whole traditional agricultural culture built on the intimate relationship between human being and the land, is destroyed by the agribusiness system.

The angle of Berry’s book is unique. “Get big or get out”, the philosophy of the agriculture transformation in the United States makes the agriculture highly developed (and also competitive in the international market). But the philosophy is actually the law of the jungle, which emphasizes the “agripower”, which cares more about quantity than quality, which the mass production and consumption culture is built on.

But how could the Americans solve this problem? How should the Americans deal with the agribusiness? I think Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Lisa M. Hamilton both answer this question in their books by narrating the personal stories of several farmers. In Kilmer-Purcell’s book The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers, the two young New Yorkers are trying so hard to become two gentlemen farmers, which I interpret as the attempt to escape from the mass production and consumption culture and the desire for a simple, idyllic life closed to nature and land.

Although I don’t think any of their stories can be simply copied to China, the desire is showed there. As Harry, an African-American dairyman in Texas, said in Hamilton’s book Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness, “I learned from him that you worked not to be rich, but to be free.”

Would like to read more book reviews on the four books ?

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.

Call for Economy Transformation

Now that China has been buffeted by global financial crisis for more than a year, it is time for China to start economy transformation, urged the Editorial Board of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China in an editorial.

The article argued that China is depended too much on international trade, which leads to economy prosperous, but also makes the whole system fragile. China should improve the production capabilities and technical skills of its own industries, rather than taking advantage of the cheap labor market.

I like this article because it gets the point of China’s weakness. China has been focusing too much on the GDP growing, and it really does a good job on it. But if China still relies on the cheap labor to produce the raw materials, without developing its own high-technology and high-end manufacturing industries, its economy cannot be considered as healthy.

The raw products like billet, rolled steel, refined oil and plastic are closely depended on the global climate. If the global market is manipulated by the industry giants or international speculators, China could do nothing but bear it.

An article called “Problems of China’s steel industry” tells what happened to China’s steel industry last year:

In 2009, industrial capacity exceeded 700 million tons while the domestic market could only consume about 560 million. The excess capacity is estimated at over 100 million tons. The situation may worsen this year as analysts predict demand will continue to lag behind supply.

China’s steel overcapacity is also a bad news for the environment. An article published on Chinastakes described its environmental problem:

China has overtaken the US as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), to which steel industry contributes no small part.

Just before the Copenhagen climate conference, China promised to lower emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent by 2020. As many countries, developed and developing, pointed out, this is the promise of merely a slowdown and not a cut of emissions, and pressure on China to get serious is increasing. The US Congress is even now considering levying penalties against imported products from high emission processes, and also including in climate change legislation additional tariffs on imported steel and other energy-intensive products to offset alleged competitive harm to domestic industries, should other countries not commit to equivalent GHG reductions. China is the key target, and he steel issue threatens to pass currency valuation as the most contentious trade issue between it and the United States.

It is an urgent need for China to transform from low-technology and polluting manufacturing to high-technology and eco-friendly industries. Being the fastest economy growing country is good, but China should also realize that GDP is not everything.

Housing Crisis and Corrupt Government



Source: http://news.pub.house365.com/whestate/system/2009/11/09/010035817.shtml

From news.pub.house365.com


ChinaGeeks translated an article from China Youth Daily:

Housing is meant to be a one of the basic necessities of life, but at present it has become a very common problem. If the people want to realize their dream of having housing, they must count on the government to move. If government employees could feel the pain caused by these housing problems, that would give them the impetus to do something. But housing welfare for government employees is widespread, and it allows them to distance themselves from the housing market. Whether housing prices are high or low has little effect on their housing, so we must take useful steps to get them to do something. We can’t rely on their senses of responsibility or their consciences.

If the law has banned it, but civic organs are doing it openly, then that is public corruption! This kind of corruption not only destroys the government’s incentive to regulate the housing market, it gives government employees a vested interest in the continued rising of housing prices. Because government employees can get houses easily, the value and profit potential of their property increases as the amount of property they have goes up.

The existence of corruption impedes national efforts to safeguard the housing [market]2. Commercial prices are so high they’re untouchable, so a lot of people have placed their hopes in [the government] safeguarding the housing [market]. And while it’s popular right now to talk about protecting the housing market, this hasn’t really helped the common people much either, and the reason is again corruption. As commercial prices rise, the profit potential for those in power through rent-seeking rises. There has been a mass of construction in the past few years, which should bring housing prices down, but for the corrupt officials who’ve been bought by businessmen and control interests in the housing market, what reason is there to bother with “safeguarding housing”3. Money is owed on “safeguarded housing” all over, and in addition to the connections with the GDP and land finance, corrupt officials are also partly to blame.

It is an interesting angle to look at the housing crisis in China. The author assumes that the solution of the rising housing price is government official’s responsibility and conscience. And because “government employees can get houses easily”, they couldn’t “feel the pain caused by these housing problems”, so they don’t have the “impetus to do something”.

The corrupted government officials should be blamed, obviously, since the corruption behaviors shouldn’t happen anyway. The close relationship between developers and government officials is widely known in China. Sheltered under the local government’s umbrella, developers could pay no attention to the laws and rules, and manipulate the housing market.

But the corruption couldn’t be solved by arresting one or two authorities, it can only be prevented by improving China’s legal supervision system, which means, the centralization of power should be changed. If the legal supervision system is functionally running, if government is under the surveillance from independent organizations and institutes, the corruption will have no place to hide.

China Vs America

It is an interesting way to compare China with United States. See a graphic made by mint.com.

It shows that the government revenue in China is much lower than in United States. Maybe that is one of the reasons why corruptions widely happen in China. When government officials cannot be satisfied from their salaries, their political power becomes more useful, especially in a society that the legal supervision system hasn’t be developed yet.

We can also see that the industrial productions growth rate in China is much higher than in the United States. But China’s electricity, oil and natural gas productions are all lower than America’s. It means China should pay more attention to its energy industry, which are the foundation of the whole society.




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