Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Now Dead Babies in the River

Reuters reports that a cache of 21 dead babies was found near a river in the city of Jining in Shandong Province. They were dead and aborted fetuses discarded by hospital personnel. Apparently they were not buried deep enough, and some washed into the river.

This story is not about agriculture and I don't usually post stories available elsewhere in English, but it's remarkably similar to the story about dead pigs posted here last week. The two stories are unrelated, but there is a disturbing parallel.

The guys who dumped the pigs had the sense to remove their ear tags so they couldn't be traced, but many of these babies still had tags identifying them, their mothers' names, and bed number. One was labeled "medical refuse."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Urbanization challenges

One of China's big challenges now being debated is how to urbanize. The State Council held a press briefing on March 29 where officials from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and departments in charge of labor and social security, land, housing, and agriculture discussed urbanization issues.

China has 655 cities, including 122 large ones that have populations of 1 million or more, and 118 with population of 500,000 to 1 million. The rest of the cities have populations under 500,000 and there are over 19,000 small towns.

Officials would like to channel the newly-urbanized population into these small cities and towns, but comments by the director of the NDRC's planning office pointed out that the smaller places are not as adept at absorbing population, and they tend to use up a lot of land.

The NDRC planning office director said there are still four big issues to be dealt with in urbanization. The "quality" of the urban population is not high. Out of an urban population of 622 million, about 167 million are migrants who are still registered as rural people. While these migrants live and work in cities, their status in cities is very uncertain.

There are big regional differences in urbanization. Eastern regions are highly urbanized, but urbanization lags behind in central and western regions. There are vast differences in environmental "carrying capacity." Of the 655 cities, 400 have water supply problems, and the lack of water is serious in 200 of them. Large water diversion and pipeline projects are underway to deal with the regional mismatch of natural resources, energy, and economic development.

The most advanced developed regions--the Bohai Gulf region, Pearl River, and Yangzi River deltas--have a high degree of urbanization, but urbanization is weak in other parts of the country, especially in medium and small cities. Their ability to absorb population is limited. In particular, small towns consume a lot of land when they expand.

Finally, the author criticizes the reliance on land in urban expansion motivated by the eagerness to make money. He offers statistics purporting to show that urban land use expanded at a rate faster than their population growth. He says this is not sustainable.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chaos in Hog Slaughter

Chinese officials have been struggling to bring order from "chaos" in the hog slaughtering business for many years. An article posted on several electronic bulletin boards describes the situation in Ye County, a major hog production area in central Henan Province. I haven't been able to discover the original source of the article, so it's veracity may be questionable--but there seem to be a lot of articles referring to chaos in hog slaughtering.

The article says there has been a lot of attention to food safety in recent years as living standards have risen. Pork is one of the main food safety concerns. It's by far the most commonly-consumed meat and the government has been struggling to control several persisent problems: (1) selling pork from sick pigs, (2) pumping water (potentially contaminated) into pigs to increase their weight before slaughter, (3) other substances or feed additives like veterinary drugs and steroids in the pork.

Regulations now try to concentrate hog slaughter in fewer, larger, cleaner designated slaughtering plants, preferably with shiny imported automated production lines. The article says that local regulations have done a fairly good job at this in cities, but this approach doesn't work well in the far-flung rural areas.

In August 2008, Ye County shifted its slaughter house oversight from the county animal husbandry bureau to the commercial bureau, which set up a county slaughter management inspection team, implementing the “one point for each county, unified distribution” slaughter management plan. However, since the county is so big (18 townships, 578 administrative villages) and the inspection team is too small (10 people), there are still many incidents where merchants violate the law, and administration and enforcement is very hard.

The reporter learned that most rural townships in Ye County do not have designated slaughterhouses. Townships close to the county seat have a single distribution center for pork. But most townships are too far from the county seat for timely delivery from the designated slaughter points.

He discovered that pork merchants in distant counties slaughter pork themselves at home. None of the pork for sale in those places has passed through a designated slaughterhouse, nor has it gotten a stamp from animal health inspection officials. The reporter heard from a pork merchant at Denglixiang: “In my home I had more than 10 sick pigs recently, all of them will probably die soon and I will have to sell them at a low price.”

According to this merchant: “As long as pigs are not dead, they can be sold, just at a relatively low price. As for pigs that are nearly dead--you take them home, use a knife to bleed them out, then the meat is not so red.”

The reporter asked, “How do you deal with sick pigs you have bought?”

This merchant replied, “It’s mixed together with good meat and sold. After cooking it, people generally can eat pork from sick pigs with no problem.”

The reporter recounts visiting a slaughterhouse called the Ye County Food Co. and seeing a man bringing a sick pig into the factory on the back of his three-wheeled bicycle. He asked the company how such a pig could pass official health inspection. But company officials said they turned the pig away and told the man to take the pig back home.

In another township a dealer told the reporter: “In fact, we don’t want to butcher the meat at home. It’s dirty and hard work and doesn’t earn much money. Pork delivered from [legitimate] wholesale food companies costs less than 6 yuan per 500g. but that pork arrives with water constantly dripping off it. People are afraid to eat such pork because the pigs may have had water pumped into them.”

The reporter found that slaughter houses ignored regulated prices. The local price and finance bureaus set the price for slaughtering hogs at 21 yuan (about $3) per head within the county city limits and 27 yuan (about $4) in rural townships. The reporter found that the Ye County Food Company charges 40 yuan and keeps the entrails (It's common practice for the butcher to keep entrails). Moreover, they don't issue receipts. The underground butchers said it costs them 6 yuan per head to slaughter at home.

A 2004 article from "Anhui Economic News" says slaughter houses are still just “one room, one pot, one knife.” This article complained about a practice called "Yi bao, dai guan" (“以包代管”--please let me know what this is if you know) which seems to entail local regulators letting companies enforce regulations on themselves. In Anhui, it involves paying a fixed amount of tax monthly without tying it to the number of hogs actually slaughtered. In Bozhou City, most slaughter points use this method, which leads to underreporting of pigs by slaughterhouses and loss of tax collection [but doesn't explain why]. In one county, the article estimates that 8 million yuan in tax revenue are lost annually.

Under "Yi bao, dai guan," slaughterhouses turn in a single receipt to township tax authorities monthly that has no indication of the number of head slaughtered. There is no way for health inspectors to verify whether pork came from an authorized slaughterhouse or an underground butcher.

In Bozhou, few slaughterhouses can meet the requirements to be a designated slaughterhouse. Most are just one room, one pot [for collecting blood?], and one knife. Only a few slaughterhouses in the prefecture are semi-mechanized. Hardly any can meet the requirements: cement floor, tiled walls, separate holding rooms for live pigs and slaughter, separate rooms for "emergency" and isolating sick pigs, a collection pool for waste, water treatment equipment, and "showers and disinfecting equipment are out of the question."

The Bozhou City trade commission organized a city-wide health, commerce, agriculture, and police joint inspection team which concluded that the market was extremely chaotic, and the central government’s 16-character “designated slaughter point, centralized inspection, unified tax collection, decentralized management” guidelines have become empty words.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Subsidies attract fake agricultural inputs

A news report from the official Xinhua News Agency on March 14 urged local governments to crack down on the sale of fake and shoddy agricultural inputs. The article points to an unintended consequence of subsidies: if you hand out cash, crooks will be drawn like flies to try to grab it.

The report cites "statistics" released by the consumer rights associations in Shandong and Anhui Province that showed huge increases in complaints about fake and shoddy seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides.

The article assures us that the central government's efforts to bring order to agricultural input markets have been effective. It says big incidents of fake inputs are less frequent now. However, the article says the problems have become more diffused and the increase in complaints show that the problem has not gone away. The article says complaints from Shandong show that input dealers exaggerated the benefits of new seed varieties that hadn't been scientifically tested, and farmers got poor or no harvests.

Interestingly, the article links the surge in fakes to agricultural subsidies. It points out that the government has increased incentives to produce grain by giving favorable policies in recent years, in turn causing the agricultural input market to flourish. It goes on to say, "Statistics from the Shandong and Anhui consumer associations show that some enterprises and merchants now are exploiting this excellent situation for illegal profit-making, using shoddy agricultural inputs to entrap farmers."

The article doesn't state explicitly that the biggest chunk of subsidies in the last few years have been subsidies to compensate farmers for rising input prices.

The article warns that “problem” seeds, fertilizer, pesticides and other agricultural inputs may affect grain production, product quality, and could affect rural social stability.

The article then becomes an instructional memorandum for local Communist Party apparatchiks: "Continuing problems with quality of agricultural inputs exposes the continued chaos in agricultural input market operations. Regulation is still lacking. All levels of government need to be reminded to crack down, simultaneously speeding up innovation in operation mode of agricultural input markets, standardizing market order, protecting farmers interests and incentives to produce."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Selling apples is not that easy

It's not easy to do business and make money. The dialogue below from a electronic bulletin board about an idea to make money selling apples shows the market economy in action. If there was money to be made, someone would have made it already. The posting is over 3 years old, but the grizzled veteran's advice is still true. The respondent is sarcastic, but in the end he takes time to give the inquirer some practical and specific suggestions.

This posting illustrates (1) the vast number of people looking for ways to make a buck in China, (2) the hyper-competitiveness of the market, (3) and the efficiency of the market. There is no easy money to be made.

Question posted December 4, 2006:

I’m a third-year student at South China Normal University. I have a classmate who is in Hebei Province who told me apples there are very cheap—the price is 1 kuai per jin sold in bulk. Around our school (in Guangzhou) apples sell for 2.5 yuan per jin, so I’d like to buy some apples from Hebei to transport for sale here. Our problem is the transportation cost and insurance. Selling them in Guangzhou will be no problem. We’re not familiar with the other things.


Little friend, business is not that easy. Why are people in the fruit wholesale business not taking advantage of such a big money-making opportunity—are they waiting for you to come?

Have you considered the following issues:
1. Your 1 kuai and 2.5 kuai are retail prices. Do you know what the wholesale price is? Perhaps the Guangzhou apples you’re talking about were brought in from Hebei. After you add the transportation, warehousing, and labor costs you might end up paying 2.5 yuan. Have you worked this out?

2. Your 10 tons of apples will be bought wholesale. Do you have distribution channels? Other fruit traders have long-standing relationships. On what basis will they take fruit from you?

3.Do you have a permit for entering the market? Health and disease prevention approval? A business license? If you don’t, your 10 tons of apples will just rot waiting for them.

Have you calculated the costs of the business? Labor cost, warehouse rent, spoilage rate, etc. You finally might have to sell for 2.8 yuan to cover the costs. Have you got a strategy if that happens?

If you have considered all these things, and feel there’s no problem, then go ahead. Truck freight is not suitable; the cost is too high. The cost to Shijiazhuang is no less than 300 yuan per cubic?. You could ship by train, but you would need [a whole car] and this way it would probably take a week. By container it would take at least half a month. You need 60 tons to ship by rail car.

If you ship by truck you had best find a [truck team?]. You can find one on the Internet. They can provide insurance, and damage may be compensated according to price.

For shipping by train you can look for a freight [forwarder?] [He recommends a company in Guangzhou]

Another Response:

The message above is right. You should think carefully. Business is not as simple as you think.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Grassland preservation is an "arduous task"

China's grasslands have been seriously overgrazed, and there are serious problems with desertification, erosion, sand storms, and grass fires. The Ministry of Agriculture's 2009 pasture monitoring report--issued on March 22--shows that authorities are now paying a lot of attention to these problems. There have been marginal improvements but the situation is still "serious."

The monitoring effort is a huge undertaking that involves the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, climate and weather organizations, regional research institutes, and local animal husbandry and extension stations in 22 "key" grassland provinces. The monitoring uses satellite remote sensing data, ground monitoring data from 400 counties, and pastoral family surveys.

The following is my translation of the summary:

The report says that 2009 was dry and hot, producing serious drought. Production conditions were not as good as the previous year. Natural pasture fresh grass output was 938.4 million metric tons, down 1% from the previous year. The adjusted dried grass output was 293.6 mmt, down 1%. Livestock capacity was about 230.988 million sheep-equivalent units, down .34% from the previous year. Nationally, the natural pasture stocking rate was 31.2% over capacity, down 0.8 percentage points.

"The State implemented ecological construction projects in pasture areas, concentrated management of ecologically fragile and restored pasture, effectively curbing the deterioration of the grassland ecological environment. The ecological environment has clearly improved in some regions. Pasture retirement and fencing projects were carried out on 45 million hectares--the growth of grass was 75 percent more than in non-project areas."

"The project to control sand storms in Beijing and Tianjin covered 3.43 million hectares. The area of serious desertification was reduced by 20 percent or more. Grass was cultivated on 107,000 ha of rocky desertified area. Bare rock area was reduced by 7 percentage points. As of 2008, national fenced grassland totaled 62 million hectares, livestock grazing rotation area covered 98.67 million hectares, a cumulative reclaimed grass area of 28.67 million hectares. In spring 2009, there were 7 sandstorms, 9 less than in 2000."

"In summary, the phenomena of grassland degradation, desertification, salinization, rocky desertification are still very serious. Nationally, the key natural pasture areas are still overstocked by 30% or more; erosion affects 13.37 million hectares;
rat infestations (?) affect 61.53 million hectares; grassland drought, fires, snow and other disasters are serious and the ability to prevent and deal with disasters is not strong enough. The pasture monitoring system is relatively weak and there is still a ways to go to meet the objectives. Strengthening grassland preservation, protecting national ecological safety, and advancing grassland area scientific development tasks continue to be arduous."

Where did the dead pigs come from?

A March 21 article from Zhejiang Online news site reports the results of investigative reporting on the source of the floating dead pigs reported on last week. The bottom line is that nobody actually knows exactly where they came from or why they died. They were from upstream and they probably died from the cold weather, but there's no epidemic.

A few pigs that still had ear tags were traced to four farmers upstream. “We have already taken legal action against them,” was the reassuring pronouncement of an official.

It seems that rotting pig carcasses in canals and rivers are a common fact of life in China. Googling “dead pig” in Chinese turns up a number of local news articles from Guangdong and Fujian Provinces about discoveries of dozens of dead pigs in waterways. In all the stories, local residents interviewed by the reporters seem unfazed by the dead pigs, as if it’s a normal occurrence. Officials always assure readers that there has been no disease epidemic.

The Zhejiang reporter contacted provincial officials and learned about the careful, coordinated efforts that have been made for several years to prevent pigs from being dumped into waterways. Officials blame the extremely heavy rains and ignorance of farmers in upstream “less developed” areas for the appearance of the unusually large number of pig carcasses.

The Qiantang River, which flows through Hangzhou, is fed by the Fuchun and Lanxijiang Rivers. Even further upstream are the Wujiang and Qujiang rivers and other smaller tributaries. “These upstream areas are less-developed and grassroots animal disease control base infrastructure is lacking.” There are six “key” counties and districts in the prefectures of Quzhou and Yixing where there is lots of hog production. The director of the Quzhou animal husbandry bureau says his area produced over 6 million hogs last year. The director of the Yixing Animal Husbandry Bureau explained Yixing is also a major hog-producing area, but management is very strict in taking care of carcasses of dead pigs.

The article explains, “In the process of raising the hogs, there are always a certain number of death losses due to effects like management and feeding situation, but there are few sites available for safe disposal of carcasses. Most hog farms bury them deep, but it is hard to say whether some farmers secretly throw them into creeks.”
Dead pigs in Guangdong Province, also in March 2010

Garbage and dead animals in the river have been a headache for a number of years. Four years ago, Zhejiang province set up a special coordinated task force for preventing dead pigs from getting dumped in the Fuchun River. The provincial agriculture and finance departments implemented a document, “Construction Project for Fuchun Riverbank Rural Area Sanitary Disposal Pit for Diseased Animal and Poultry Carcasses.” During 2007-09, townships and villages in the six key counties constructed 335 steel disposal pits for dead animals and poultry with a volume of 26,970 cubic meters in 608 villages.

Each area set up township- and village-level animal health monitoring organizations. The six counties used broadcast media, newspapers, leaflets and booklets to publicize requirements for disposal of carcasses of sick animals and rules forbidding random disposal. They organize inspections of waterways each year in April.

The article explains that the upriver area is the province’s major pig production area, where a lot of pigs are traded. Some pigs died due to the cold weather while being transported, due to small bodies and weak immunity. The main transport routes are near the river on both sides. Traders cut off the pigs’ ear tags and dumped them into the Fuchunjiang and Qiantang River waterways. The flooding was unusual in March, and the spillway on dams had to be opened, allowing a lot of garbage and pigs to flow downstream to Hangzhou.

On March 18 (after the pigs became news in Hangzhou), the provincial coordinating emergency committee sprang into action. Meetings were held and teams were assigned to visit all townships along the river for inspections and cleanup. Communities on the riverbanks have to make regular checks from now on. The Provincial authorities are studying how to write a law that will “solve the problem well.”

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dead Pigs in Hangzhou River

Since March 9, hundreds of dead pigs have been found floating in the Qiantang River that flows through Hangzhou. City residents are concerned about whether the carcasses are contaminating their drinking water, and it also raises the question of where they came from. Initially, the event was reported locally and on overseas Chinese news sites, but the official Xinhua News agency affiliates reported the story on March 19.

According to a local news report, on March 13, a Mr. Liang called into a Hangzhou hotline and reported: “A garbage boat on the south bank of the Qiantang River is cleaning a lot of debris out of the river. People should be careful because a lot of dead poultry and pigs have been found in the river. I heard this kind of dead pig floated down from Tonglu, but don’t know whether the drinking water is affected.”

Sanitation workers have been working furiously to pick the dead pigs and other garbage out of the river. So far, 570 pigs have been pulled out of the river. On March 14, 100 pigs were found in one day. A reporter recounted seeing the bodies in white bags covered in blood and giving off a thick stench. Most were recently-born pigs, about 50 cm long, and badly decomposed.

Local residents say that it’s not unusual to see dead pigs in the river. But usually the peak season for floating pigs is in June and July. A reporter went upstream to investigate, and people there said the dead pigs have been ommon for the last 3-to-5 years. They smell bad and local people upstream said they don’t eat catfish during the summer months because they’re worried that the catfish feed on the carcasses.

Heavy rains and consequent flooding this month explain the large numbers of pigs. Were they drowned? Were they pigs who had died of disease and were not buried deeply enough? Or were they deliberately dumped in the river?

Most of the pig carcasses did not have ear tags required by Chinese regulations. (The tags record the pig’s birth date and record of immunizations.) A provincial agricultural official said that most of the pigs were newly born and were too young to have been registered. However, carcasses of older pigs were also missing their ear tags and some appear to have had their ears cut off. According to one report, a few pigs did have their tags which enabled officials to trace them to their source.

The agricultural official said that the carcasses had been in the water for a couple of weeks and were too badly decomposed to do a post-mortem. He assures us that the dead pigs are not evidence of an epidemic, but they do reflect farmers’ failure to dispose of carcasses properly.

As far back as 2005, local officials started offering a cash reward of 500 yuan per pig to anyone who reported dead pigs being dumped in the river.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tight corn supply in northeast

The March 18 "Corn Express" newletter from the China National Grain and Oils Information Center reports that farmers and enterprises have less corn on hand than usual.

There was heavy snow over much of the northeast last weekend and transportation is difficult now. Processors raised purchase prices last week about 20-40 yuan per ton, but farmers are not selling much. In southern Jilin Province, the price of middle-grade corn was up to 1680 yuan/mt, equivalent to $6.25/bu. The price is higher than the support price of 1500 yuan and higher than the 1600 yuan threshold at which the government subsidizes corn shipments to southern China.

The purchase price broke through 1900 yuan/mt in Shaanxi, Gansu and some other areas, over $7 per bushel. By comparison, the processor price in central Illinois reported by USDA/AMS was $3.62-3.73/bu on Wednesday. Chinese mills and processors are paying nearly twice as much for corn as their U.S. counterparts.

The slow sales are partly due to the weather, but also many farmers don't have much grain on hand. Farmers in Jilin have about 40% of their corn unsold and Heilongjiang farmers 45%. The effect of last summer's drought on corn production is now manifesting itself in a tight supply situation. The report says that slow corn sales are a common feature in all production areas.

Many companies plan to increase purchases of corn later in March but farmers are hoping for higher prices. Some farmers may sell corn with high moisture (at a discount).

The report notes that a rise in northeast prices would narrow the difference between the price in the northeast and the port price for shipments to the south. The price at Dalian for shipments to the south is 2000-2020 yuan/mt. Already, the price in Guangzhou has already gone up to a relatively high level. Buyers in Guangzhou are looking into purchasing from Hebei Province.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Dead soil" from overuse of fertilizer

Greenhouses and chemical fertilizer have helped Chinese farmers to produce huge amounts of vegetables nearly year-round. The result was higher incomes for farmers and fresh vegetables at any time of year for Chinese consumers.

Greenhouses cover the countryside in Shouguang

A March 15 article from the overseas Chinese newspaper, World Journal, reveals the hidden costs of heavy long-term use of Nitrogen fertilizer. Reporters visited a village in Shouguang in Shandong Province, the center of greenhouse production in China. In the 1980s and early 1990s, officials introduced farmers to this new production strategy as a demonstration project. In some areas, the countryside has been turned white, covered with plastic greenhouses with few open fields. Groups come from all over the country to see how they do it.

The reporters visited 48-year-old farmer Li Yufeng. She recalls how the farmers were amazed at the fat cucumbers produced with nitrogen fertilizer in 1989. She said, cucumbers no longer grew as well after the fifth or sixth year of using chemical fertilizer. Soil fertility declined, pests and diseases worsened, and roots sometimes rotted shortly after the seedlings emerged. Now she complains that the soil is dead after many years of applying chemical fertilizer.

The director of the provincial Academy of Agricultural Science soil fertility institute is quoted as saying that if overuse of nitrogen fertilizer is not controlled, the "failure of greenhouses could spread to grain fields."

The fertilizer also causes pollution that may pose a serious health risk. The article references a study by the China Agricultural University that found 60% of the underground water in Shouguang was contaminated by nitrates. Doctors think nitrates in the drinking water may cause increased incidence of “blue baby” syndrome, gastric cancer, colorectal cancer, and lymphoma.
But who needs soil anyway?

WaPost on Water Problems

Read Steven Mufson's Washington Post article on water shortage and troubles with the South-to-North water diversion project, if you dare. The article doesn't mention the severe drought currently going on in southwestern China.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Need a Date? Try Shaanxi

Last year Shaanxi Province exported organic red dates (also known as Chinese jujubes) for the first time. Seven shipments of red dates valued at $210,000 were shipped from Yulin city in the northern part of the province. The shipments were small, totaling just 48 metric tons, but they represent a symbolic breakthrough for this poor remote mountainous region on the border of Shaanxi and Shanxi Provinces.

A giant date on a Shaanxi Province hilltop
(displayed on an e-commerce site promoting dates)
The story about the export of dates illustrates the government-business-farmer partnership strategy that China is using to bring products from remote backwaters to a supermarket near you. Apple juice is the most prominent example of this strategy--mostly it comes from the central part of Shaanxi--but jujubes, pears, oranges, kiwis, sausage casings, and other products are also taking this route.

Farmers in the Yulin region have grown dates for many years, but the companies processing them were small and the products couldn't meet international standards. The local communist party and government started a "special agricultural products to benefit the people" program. This apparently is a program that identifies products unique to a local area that can be promoted as exports. The article says that dates join other local products like mung beans, red beans, and buckwheat starch as local export products.

The local branch of the import/export quarantine and inspection authority, known by its acronymn CIQ, implemented a "one scheme for each enterprise" program. The program gave "guidance and aid" to a company--the Jia County Organic Food Ltd Co.--in site selection, purchase of equipment, manufacturing layout. The CIQ office gave the company and farmers assistance in achieving U.S., E.U. and domestic Chinese organic certifications. CIQ officials also assisted the company in registering and attaining certification from them as a food exporter. The Jia County government also gave funding support to the Benefit the People Modern Agriculture Development Co. and Fortune for the Masses Food Co. to produce liquor and other beverages made from dates.

This program is part of the "develop the west" strategy, which brings technology and investment from more-developed eastern regions to develop the poor western areas. Another article describes how agricultural experts from Hebei Agricultural University and South China Agricultural University (Guangzhou) were "invited" by county authorities to give training in each township in growing red dates, insect control, pruning, fertilization and preservation of dates. Teams from Jia County were also sent out on educational tours to other parts of China.

The date exports show that reliance on foreign demand is no longer just a coastal phenomenon. Another article from the Shaanxi Daily reports that a company in Yanchuan County also made its first overseas sales of red date sauce last year. They made sales of $10,000 to Malaysia, Korea, and Hong Kong, and this year it aims for overseas sales of $1 million. It projects sales of 15 million yuan this year, of which only 3.7 million yuan will come from the domestic market.

Look for more "develop the west." A Farmers Daily article apparently issuing the official party line suggested the program--now a decade old--will continue. The article quoted delegates from western provinces at the National Peoples Congress expressing their praise for the program and hoping it will continue. A representative from the State Council Office on western development said the program will focus on developing industrial districts for locally-advantage agricultural and mineral products, like dates.

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Grim" Drought Situation in South China

Parts of southern China are experiencing serious drought conditions. Most of Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guizhou have been suffering from drought for 5 months. Luocheng, in northern Guangxi, has been experiencing drought since last August. The drought is also affecting Sichuan and Chongqing. The rapeseed harvest may be seriously affected, and officials are worried about spring planting. Drought is affecting wheat and rapeseed crops in Gansu (in the northwest) as well.

Over 18 million people and 11 million large livestock lack drinking water, said to be double the usual number for this season. The drought-affected area is said to include 92 million mu (6.1 million hectares). Official news reports describe the situation as "extremely serious" and "grim."
Areas in red most seriously affected by drought as of March 10. Map from China National Weather Bureau.

At the National Peoples Congress held in Beijing, Premier (and unoffical Minister of Sympathy) Wen Jiabao took time out to express his sympathy to the delegations from Guizhou and Yunnan, the hardest hit provinces. Wen said, "Guizhou’s biggest worry now is to be rescued from the drought."

The national drought control and management center held a consultation and is now organizing teams all the way down to the county, town, and village level to "...troubleshoot, begin various anti-drought measures, think of solutions, and get water to the public in drought-affected regions at any cost."
A farmer in Guangxi holds corn seedlings affected by drought
villagers from an ethnic minority in Guangxi get bottles filled with drinking water. The Communist Party never misses a chance to show how well it treats ethnic minorities.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wen Emphasizes "Coordinated Urban-Rural Development"

On March 5, Premier Wen Jiabao gave a government work report to the National Peoples Congress in which he repeated the emphasis on "coordinated urban-rural development" that was featured in the No. 1 Document. The video is here.

China's leadership now appears to have recognized that the barriers that created a dual urban-rural economy need to be dismantled. Since the 1950s rural people have been barred from freely moving to cities by the household registration system and collective land ownership that tied them to their home villages. The rural system of equally dividing up and leasing out tiny plots of collectively owned land to village members is coming under pressure as more rural people find nonfarm employment and it becomes evident that small-scale subsistence agriculture is an outmoded institution.

With its "coordinated urban-rural development" strategy, the Communist Party is relying on its instincts to plan and control the structural adjustments that are needed. Wen called for opening urban residence to rural migrants, letting their kids attend urban schools, letting them participate in social insurance, but mainly in small towns and cities, not in large cities. Xinhua's article on Wen's report concludes, "We should let rural migrants become urban residents as conditions permit, and let them have a happy life in a good home."

Coordinated urban-rural development features "three concentrations": farmland is concentrated in larger-scale farm operations; rural people are to be concentrated in small towns, small cities, and new rural communities; and industry is to be concentrated in industrial parks. Everything is carefully planned to preserve "order" and control.

In order to take over farmland for industrial parks or other urban expansion, new farmland has to be created elsewhere in the same district. The new farmland is obtained by moving villagers into highrise apartment buildings, tearing down their old houses and turning their residential land into new farmland. In Chongqing, "land tickets" that give companies rights to these new land parcels are sold on a new exchange established in December 2008.

Wen's report (and all other official documents on the topic) insist that the basic rural operation system should be preserved, i.e. land will remain collectively owned and farmers' rights to operate their land will be guaranteed to them "for a long time." Within these constraints, Wen encourages a search for new ways to facilitate exchange of the operation rights to land and finding new ways of organizing larger-scale farming operations. These new modes include mainly large-scale household farms, companies operating farmland, farmer cooperatives. In many provinces, a large farm is one who controls just 20 mu (about 3 acres). Wen calls for continuing experiments with rural financial institutions and expanding micro-lending.

Wen also catalogs a list of "preferential" rural and agricultural policies. Spending on the four main agricultural subsidies will expand to 133 billion yuan (about $19.5 billion), up a relatively modest 4.5% this year. Minimum procurement prices will be raised for rice and wheat. Wen calls for adhering to the plan to increase grain production capacity, increasing oilseed acreage, increasing supply of commodities that are in short supply, standardizing horticultural and livestock production and forming stronger links between producers and markets.

Total spending on rural ("san nong") issues will be increased to 818 billion yuan ($120 billion), up 11%. There will be big spending on rural infrastructure, improved "field management," irrigation district reform, reconstruction of deteriorated reservoirs, improvements in extension services, and implementation of genetically modified varieties.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Confucious for food safety

Recently, a "morality education forum" was held in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, where a farmer repented from his devious ways and pledged never to harm people by using pesticide and feed additives when he's not supposed to.

The article, which appeared on Chinese news sites and electronic bulletin boards, was entitled "A Farmer's Confession." Bespectacled 36-year-old farmer Xu Qingyuan, from a village in Liaoning Province, is described as wearing plain clothes and having the simple, honest manner of a farmer. His confession was said to "shock" the audience.

Mr. Xu confessed to dousing his cabbage with at least one spraying each week of toxic pesticides. He explains that the traditional way of planting cabbage is to plant it in late summer and harvest it late in the fall. Because of the cool temperatures, pesticides are normally not needed in this traditional mode. However, people now want to be able to consume cabbage year-round. Mr. Xu grew off-season cabbage, planting it in the spring and harvesting during the hot summer months. During this time, insects and diseases are plentiful, so Mr. Xu had to spray two kinds of pesticides, usually at least one application per week.

Mr. Xu said the pesticide label informed him that the chemicals are highly toxic and should only be applied while wearing gloves and a mask. In fact, his wife was poisoned by the pesticides, but it was discovered soon enough that she recovered.

The pesticide label also instructs users that the pesticides should not be applied within a month of harvest. But Mr. Xu says pests are at their peak in the summer months as the off-season cabbage reaches maturity. If he doesn't spray his cabbage will end up with holes in the leaves or rotten, so he ignores the one-month restriction on spraying. He says traders come and buy 10,000 jin from him at 0.10 yuan per jin--a total of 1000 yuan for all his cabbage. If he failed to spray, he wouldn't make anything at all.

Mr. Xu began raising pigs in 2007. He says it used to take more than a year to raise pigs to market weight. Now they can do it in four months by feeding them a formula consisting of mostly corn and wheat bran. The feed also includes veterinary drug additives which the label says should not be given to pigs within 7 days of slaughter.

Mr. Xu also flouted the 7-day rule on feed additives. He said the merchant came to buy pigs when the price was high. If he waited seven days, the price might go down and he would not make much money. Mr. Xu thinks few farmers obey the 7-day rule. He earned 7000 yuan selling pigs, but had to spend most of it on his sick mother.

The farmer then goes on to tell a story about chickens on a farm in a neighboring village that suddenly start flapping their wings, fall on the ground and die "as if they 're committing suicide." The malady is attributed to excessive nutrients. He mentions seeing a pile of empty medicine boxes and bags outside the gate of a farm. The chicken farmer said he spent 10,000 yuan on the medications.

Xu then had what sounds like a religious experience without God. In 2008, he heard about an old professor teaching traditional culture and he bought his book and CD to study “San Zi Gui” [an ancient book for teaching Confucian morality to children—there are lots of web sites and videos online based on this work]. After concentrated study, he understood what morality (dao de) is. Mr Xu goes on, “Now I realize I am a farmer who plants vegetables and raises pigs and don’t know how many people I have harmed. It's really hard to eat and sleep. This has violated morals and violated natural law.”

Last year, Xu Qingyuan started participating in a citizens’ morality education forum on CCTV, using his own family’s experience to confess to the general population, cautioning and educating everyone. Xu now will not plant off-season vegetables or raise hogs again. He enthusiastically studies traditional culture and uses his own money to print traditional culture books and CDs to distribute free to farmers. And he endorses eating vegetables only when they're in season.

By making his confession to the public, Xu Qingyuan has a big psychological burden, but his compatriots can be healthy. He wishes to diligently influence more people.

The meeting in Hebei was sponsored by the Democratic League, an organization "under the leadership of the Communist Party" that sponsors education activity for "mid-level intellectuals" to promote construction of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Its web site is decorated with an old-school painting of a young Chairman Mao giving a speech.

This appears to be an attempt to resurrect traditional Chinese concepts--Confucianism and traditional farm production methods--to create a sense of morality in a population that was stripped of religious and social infrastructure (including Confucianism) in the 1960s and told "to get rich is glorious" in the 1980s. Now food safety problems like the melamine incident show the results of single-minded pursuit of material well-being and callous disregard for others. The Communist Party has seized on Confucianism--a philosophy that promotes morality, social harmony and (conveniently) obedience to governing authorities without appealing to a deity or other authority that supercedes the Communist Party.