Organics gain ground in China

10/31/2003 12:00:00 AM
Lance Jungmeyer

(Oct. 31) A green revolution is going on — all over old Red China.

Since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, farmers there say they have been encouraged to use fewer chemicals and grow as naturally as possible.

That makes products more appealing to international buyers and delivers a premium over the meager prices farmers would receive in local markets.

The movement is national, but it is gaining the most steam in a few hitherto relatively unspoiled areas, which also must be near a point of export.

There are 3,000 mu, or about 500 acres, of organic vegetables in Fu Shan Town, Ninyang County, Shandong province, which has about 66,000 people, said Xu Bo, the town’s mayor, who added, “Our acreage in organics is growing every year.”

The area, with a unique microclimate, grows dates, chestnuts, walnuts, ginger, peanuts and more. Some farms have operated organically for three or more years.

The growers say they are developing clientele in the U.S., Canada, Japan and Europe, often contracting prices in advance with a Chinese broker.

In Yingkou, a port city in northeastern China, efforts are afoot to establish an export-oriented, organic fruit and vegetable sector, according to People’s Daily, a Chinese newspaper.

Li Wenke, mayor of Yingkou, told the paper the first export targets are Russia, Japan and South Korea. He expects overall agricultural exports from the city, including seafood, flowers and meats, to exceed $65 million this year.

Turn to the future: During the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s, peasants were ordered to put chemicals to greater use, to feed the world’s largest population, 900 million-plus and knocking on the door of a billion at the time.

By the 1990s, China had become the world’s largest pesticide user, using more than 250,000 tons of it a year, according to Pesticide Action Network North America. That number continues to grow.

Great lots of land have been farmed, farmed and overfarmed, spoiled beyond belief. But some were spared.

In Wuyuan, a tea-growing area in northeastern Jiangxi province — where six rivers meet, factories are banished and forests help keep the air clean — local leaders found the perfect area to proclaim an organic haven.

The best known product from the area, green tea, gained organic certification in 1997, according to the Organic Consumers Association’s Web site.

Wuyuan Organic Foods, a major green tea producer, also has a stake in fresh produce as it sells organic mushrooms.

The firm has been pursuing organic certification of bamboo shoots, peaches and pears, according to the site.

From Qingdao to the world: When Wang Lin’s organic vegetables leave the packing plant, tucked tight in an ocean-ready container, they face an eight-hour haul or more, from the plant in Taishan township in Shandong province to the port city of Qingdao, gateway to the West, and outlet for much of the prolific province’s agriculture.

A common load is asparagus, perhaps bound for trendy restaurants in Tokyo. The sorts of places where chefs literally throw rejected product back at you. The sort of places that will pay for organics.

Wang saw the light about five years ago, when he made a switch after years of growing conventional vegetables. He wanted to get into high-value crops, so he chose organics as a niche, which fit into the central government’s plan to help improve the environment while still creating economic growth.

Now he is president of Taian Taishan Asia Food Co. Ltd., Taian City, which, in addition to exporting garlic and some fresh vegetables, is a major provider of frozen organic vegetables under U.S. brands such as Trader Joes.

But he’s increasingly looking to the fresh organic market to provide growth in exports. About 20% of his firm’s product, including carrots, broccoli, potatoes and yams, is sold fresh, mostly to Japan and Singapore.



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