China vignettes 3 – Around the Pearl River Delta 1

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Downtown Guangzhou by night, from the river and suburbs by day

The contrast between the high-rise, brightly lit at night, bustling city, with multiple level road flyovers and the rural areas around it is striking. On our first trip out into the Pearl River Delta area around the city we visited the vegetable research Institute of the city.

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Road through the SCAU campus, new buildings entering Guangzhou, city driving

City Vegetable Research Institute

Here they do breeding of various vegetables and supply seeds for farmers. While in the past the institute did both now the company that is supplying the seed has to be separate from the research institute to avoid conflicts of interest. As well as the research work, the Institute also has a demonstration greenhouse where they bring schoolchildren to see where the food comes from and the range of food that can be grown in the area.

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The workers here, mostly women, are generally local and receive 1060 yuan per month.

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In a nearby town, by the large indoor market, you can find a few people selling Chinese greens, lotus root and the like on the street. They don’t have enough land to grow much but use this to supplement their income.

Village “cooperative”

Next we visited a newly established “co-operative”. The land is surrounded by buildings and is not far from the airport but people are not allowed to build factories here according to the village head. They grow a range of vegetables, with half of the area in organic production. The produce mainly goes to restaurants and institutions. They used to grow rice but vegetables are more profitable and use less labour than rice which is why they moved over to vegetable production. This, I’m told, is quite a common phenomenon in the Delta were rice production has declined considerably in the last 10 years. The co-op gets government support in the form of low-interest credit and was only formed in May 2012.ImageImage

One problem, which comes as a surprise, is the problem of labour shortage. It is something I’m to hear more about as I do more travelling in the rural areas in China. In this instance, the village headman pays the villagers about 950 yuan per year per mu – there are 15 mu per hectare and about 10 yuan/£ – and hires both full-time labourers who tend to come from elsewhere in China, and daily labourers who come from the village.

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A lot of what they produce is boxed up in these boxes. The symbol on the box is for green food, which is the middle ranking of government certified food production standards. These are organic, green, and no public harm.

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The village headman reflects that it’s got warmer in his lifetime and wetter, which leads to more damage to the plants. As we walk around the village, which is a mixture of old mudbrick houses and newly built brick and reinforced concrete two story houses, there’s a noticeable lack of any livestock. People don’t raise pigs and chickens so much now, we’re told, since they’ve got more money.

Next: Horticulture and hydroponics

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About geofftansey

I curate the Food Systems Academy, a free, on-line, open education resource to transform our food systems. I am also a member of the Food Ethics Council and chaired the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, which reported in 2015.
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