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China: Involving Peasant Farmers in Organic Farming

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

Hengrong Organic Farm in Shangxi Province is a typical example of projects in China where members of the organic industry are beginning their own organic agricultural production. Like many organic business people in China, Mr. Jianzeng He, who started Hengrong Organic Farm in 2005, had a previous job – in his case as an electronics technocrat. His organic business operation has been a quite different activity, and it is outstanding. (Picture: A huge number of hectares are under organic farming)
Mr. He was originally from a village in Shanxi Province, a province known for its coal production and also for its mountainous terrain. He had carried out many field studies across the province by visiting hundreds of villages in more than 40 counties before entering the organic business. His conclusion from his studies was that local peasant farmers, in order for them to improve their lives, should be involved in the organic enterprise he was about to set up. (Picture: Peasant farmers can improve their lives with organic farming)

Many organic businesses in China run on a model of trading company plus production base. Mostly there is an organic cooperative involving family farmers on their own land. As farmers and not labourers, they represent a sustainable model of organic farming that benefits peasants financially as their incomes are higher than those of conventional peasant farmers, and the organic model protects both the rural environment and the health of the farmers because they do not use chemicals. Moreover, this approach eventually attracts young peasant migrant workers back to their rural land that they abandoned in the hope of achieving better pay and a better life in the cities. (Picture: Protecting the environment is one important aspect of Hengrong Organic Farm)

In total, Hengrong Organic Farm has over 20,000 mu (1,300 hectares) of farm land under organic cultivation within Shangxi Province, of which fewer than 1000 mu were rented by Hengrong Organic Farm itself for use mainly as experimental plots to grow vegetables and some crops at high altitude. The rest belongs to peasant farmers, with some reclaimed by peasants from wasteland. There are more than 600 households from more than 20 villages working with Hengrong Organic Farm. They produce certified organic millet, corn, buckwheat, flaxseeds, aduki beans, black beans, mung beans, dried peas, soy beans, kidney beans, wheat flour, chrysanthemum tea, dandelion tea, honeysuckle tea, walnuts, dried wild apricots, etc. (Picture: Walnuts are one of the products from the cooperative)

In addition, using artisan production methods, Hengrong Organic Farm produces aged Shanxi vinegar without the use of artificial additives, grows clean chemical-free vegetables and raises free-range pigs, sheep and chickens with feed made, if necessary, from its own crops and herbs. Whenever possible, native seeds are sought and used. For example, millet has been known to grow well in mountainous regions throughout Shanxi province, and Hengrong Organic Farm has been using native millet seeds instead of hybrid ones. In fact, its millet has a great taste due to its long growth season with sufficient sunshine and because it is indigenous. (Picture: The traditional way of farming is transformed into the organic way)

Many villages that Hengrong Organic Farm has chosen are located in remote areas with inconvenient transportation. In fact, many of them are the last villages at the end of different valleys, with farm land mostly at more than 1000 meters above sea level. This often means the villagers are less affected by modern chemical farming and they have less access to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, because it is not easy to bring them in and it is also expensive. The peasant farmers have benefited from the cool climate too that reduces the occurrence of pests, and the crops they grow tend to be drought-resistant and are suitable for the local climate. Crop rotation has also been practised.

As many young people have left for the cities, there is more land and fewer people and, consequently, even some good land has been abandoned and has turned into wasteland. Even though sheep and goats are free to roam across the green hills, over-grazing does not exist. Hengrong Organic Farm has about 500 pigs, and most of the time they roam over the hills at 1,500-1,700 metres above sea level, where they feed on grass, wild medicinal plants and wild berries. They are natural breeds and, because there is no need, they are not vaccinated. (Picture: Natural breeds of pigs are free to roam)

Visiting many of the villages where Hengrong Organic Farm works with local peasants, one can often see old but fit peasants. Those peasant farmers who work with Hengrong Organic Farm are between 50-75 years old. As older peasants still retain some traditional farming techniques, it is relatively easy to preach organic farming to them. And the benefit of relatively higher incomes from organic farming also encourages more peasant farmers to join. For example, there are around 100 households in Xiamujiao village, where more than 80 of them have been working together with Hengrong Organic Farm on 3,000 mu (200 ha) of farm land, and this kind of clustering makes it convenient for Hengrong Organic Farm to maintain quality control. (Picture: Older farmers are used to working in a traditional and natural way)

In addition to bringing local peasant farmers into organic farming, what is equally impressive about Hengrong Organic Farm is its claim that its organic farming yields as much as local conventional farming, with potatoes being the only exception. As low yield is often used as an argument against organic agriculture, what Hengrong Organic Farm has achieved is outstanding: organic farming is a sustainable system providing enough food, safeguarding the environment and preventing farmers from being exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals. (Picture: Balanced system)



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