Farming in China

I’ve often been curious about the food quality here and the amount of “organic” produce you can find in China (well, ok, Shenzhen, where I live). I’ve been a little hesitant to look up any information until recently.

One of the scary things is not only about the quality of the food produced or how the food is produced, but more about how farmers are put under a lot of pressure to produce in China.  Because the government is quite localized here, it’s hard to standardize practices and ensure safety on smaller farms. Furthermore, bigger companies are able to procure more land (by negotiating with the government), probably ensuring that the smaller independent farmers can’t expand. This is because the government owns the land, so citizens don’t have land rights to rent or buy more land.  Furthermore, the lure of better jobs in the cities means that more farmers migrate into cities like Shenzhen, Beijing and China, meaning less and less people working on farms, which puts a strain on the system.  A sign of how smaller farms/ independent farmers suffer is some of the local markets here.  Many of the sellers aren’t necessarily selling their own homegrown foods anymore.  Many of them head to wholesale markets to purchase their produce. Instead of buying directly from the source, they are essentially middlemen.

Some interesting facts quoted from this site:

  • China feeds 22 percent of the world population with only 10 percent of the planet’s arable land. Land is heavily utilized for agriculture. Vegetables are planted on road embankments, in traffic triangles and right up the walls of many buildings. Even so since 1949 China has lost one fifth of its arable land.
  • Farm land is still owned and controlled by the state and leased to farmers. It can not be bought or sold only leased. Land essentially belongs to local governments, a holdover from the commune era. Reforms passed in the Deng era allowed individuals to contract land from villages. To be converted into non-agricultural land it has to be reclaimed by the government and rezoned.
  • These days farmers sign 30-year leases for the right to work a plot and but they no longer are required to pay harvest quotas or most agricultural taxes. They don’t own the land, they can’t sell it and they can’t use it for collateral on a loan.
  • Farmers typically live is a small brick house with electricity and a televison. They have no pension and want their kids to go to university but don’t know how they will pay for it. Young people don’t want to be farmers. One 21-year-old woman who left her village for a factory job told Reuters, “Nobody our age farms anymore. Nobody my age can plant a stalk. You need to leave to make real money.”
  • China has very advanced agricultural research centers and laboratories that do research and churn out reams of data on the latest fertilizers, pollution risks and genetically-engineered crops The problem is that the data and insights these researchers come up with rarely finds its way to farmers, who mostly rely on the pesticide and fertilizer salesmen to keep them informed. Even then necessity often keeps them from following directions. Villagers given instructions to use the pesticides only once every 15 days are likely to use pesticides more frequently than that if their crops are being swarmed by insects.

Farming trends here also reminds me of factory farms in the USA/Canada (though I hope not as bad) and if this trend continues in China (I’m pretty sure it is more prevalent that they admit) the people here will be worse off than some of the food scares already happening.  People outside China should be worried about food quality, because the foods you least expect actually come from here.  A lot of organic produce people buy are from China.  Whether or not this applies to export quality foods, I’ve read and heard from sources that people label products ‘organic’ because they see it as a trend and it’ll help them sell their stuff.

I would like to be more hopeful about the situation these farmers face, and that they are able to make a better living, instead of trying to do whatever they can to make a profit (which is quite small, I’ve heard from a source that what you basically pay at the supermarkets is the transportation cost of sending food to different cities).  I also wish that someday that China will be more aware of their food safety practices, though I think that will be a long way away, unless foreign purchasers put pressure (and stick to it) on them now.

Here are some good sources to read if you are interested in this issue:

Agriculture in China – has some interesting points about how farmers farm and the environmental effects of it, as well as how the government plays a role in potential food shortage

Innovations that can Ensure Food Security – interesting article about what farmers/China can do.

Exploding Watermelons Put Spotlight on Chinese Farming Practices –  one of the recent food scares highlights some of the environmental impacts farming has on the land

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complimenting myself

I’ve been feeling down about where I needed to head with my goals I forgot to look at how far I have come in the past year and a bit.  I’ve been down on myself about most things (mostly diet and exercise) so complimenting myself will help motivate me further

Here’s my list:

-Successfully cut out most highly refined/added sugar from my diet.

-Added new foods in my diet (dried beans, quinoa, eggplant, radish, I’m sure there is more)

-Reduced intake of beef

-Shopped more at local wet market (also called farmer’s market)

-Cooked more meals at home

-Stopped eating pastries/bread

-Ate more fruit in diet

-Drank more water daily

-Decreased dependence on nutritional supplements (only on dairy-free probiotics and calcium occasionally)

-Reduced caffene intake

-Ate less highly processed foods (instant noodles, premade sauces, potato chips)

-Ate less salt

-Used less oil in cooking

-Exercised 3-4 times a week even though work schedule is hectic

-Watched less TV

-Gotten very efficient with planning lessons and units at work

-Learned better ways to build rapport with students

-Through mimicking others and obessively reading menus, have improved my Mandarin skills to the point where I can have basic conversations with people (well, at least I can get by)

-Maintained a wonderful relationship with my now husband

-Improved my film developing skills, and taking images of people with heavy TLR

-Made better financial decisions

-Made diet choices and reduced/virtually eliminated ezcema symptoms

Looking at at this list, it sure is a lot! I should be very proud of myself.  I still have a long way to go until I am where I would like to be with my eating goals (trying to make sure 2/3 of our meals are vegetarian/vegan, weed red chillies out from most of my diet, weed out highly refined foods for good, eat seasonally as much as possible) but this is a good start. For a girl who used to indulge on anything and everything, and not caring about consequences of what I ate, it is very good. Granted, it was hard, but I am glad I made the choice (necessary or not) to get here.  I am also happy that I am more confident in what I do at work. I also feel more confident in my photography and feeling happy that I do have the leisure time and disposible income to afford film supplies for what I love.

I do have a pretty good life. And I am awesome 🙂

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food resolution pt. 2

Ok, I knew it would have come to this. Most people who go on diets often cheat right? We’ll, I’ve had more sugary drinks than I care for (ok, only three, but that is a lot) and semi cheated on my diet (I had a a quesidilla with cheese, and not rotated my foods properly), and I feel uber guilty for it.

Now that I had my one of two wisdom teeth to pull out, I’m going to take the weekend to rest and regroup myself.  I have to focus on why I want to eat better:

-lessen ezcema symptoms

-feel more energized overall

-less stomachaches

-feel better in general

I’ve noticed in the last year since eating more grains/beans/fruit and less meat that it has made a difference in how I feel, mentally and physically. It is hard here because my job has been especially stressful lately, but it just means that I’ll have to find better ways to prepare meals. I’m writing this to remind myself of my food goals again. I know that it is ok to cheat sometimes but I don’t want to get used to eating junk all the time now.

So here they are:

-plan ahead meals so there is no excuse to deviate from diet

-continue with recording food on my food diary (and don’t cheat!)

-rotate all foods as much as I can (maybe start menu planning?)

-No more diary, no matter how delicious that pizza looks/smells

-eliminate highly refined foods eventually from my diet altogether

-baked goods/sugary foods OCCASIONALLY.  Will try to use honey for sweetener if craving a sugary fix.

This sounds easier, but it is definitely not. After years of not knowing why my immune system sucked and why my eczema flared up, I’m really trying to take control of my life with this.

Though, my good friend sent me cake mix I can actually eat, so maybe I’ll wait for another month and that can be my reward 🙂

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