Friday, November 6, 2009

State Farm Traceability System

China still has a system of massive state farms, mostly in desolate border regions like Heilongjiang, Xinjiang, and Yunnan, and on the outskirts of cities. In Chinese, they are known as "reclamation" farms (nong ken) since many are established in desolate areas or on reclaimed marsh, jungle or mountain land. These are holdovers from the central planning period that have now morphed into big agribusiness enterprises. Since they have large scale and access to government resources, they are on the vanguard of many trends.

The state farm system held a conference in Beijing this week to publicize its traceability system that involves 50 state farm enterprises and 6 local enterprises in 23 provinces. According to Farmer's Daily, it is an early implementation of the objective of bringing into play a “record-keeping in production, product-tracing in distribution, information retrievability, accountability” system. During November 7-14, the Ministry of Agriculture’s state farm bureau, and agricultural product quality and safety supervision bureau will hold a “state farm product quality traceability demonstration week” in Shanghai.

In 2003, the state farm system began its agricultural traceability pilot work; in 2008, with support from the Ministry of Finance and other departments, actual work on the project was initiated. Presently, the traceability system includes nearly 140 products (tea, fruit, vegetables, rice) from 56 state farms.

The farms keep records on what they produce, chemicals applied, time of harvest, etc., and record it in a database. Web sites and electronic kiosks in supermarkets allow retail customers to scan a package and look up the information. (In August we tried to test several of these kiosks in Shanghai and Beijing, but the supermarket staff couldn't get any of them to work. The manager of one supermarket said hardly anyone uses them, but if the kiosks were taken away customers would get suspicious.)

The state farm system, in all, produces over 2000 agricultural products that meet pollution-free, green, and organic food certifications, over 80% of state farm enterprises have set up strict production process and product standards, including 17 product testing centers, over 90% of dragon head enterprises have testing organizations.

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