ISOFARAnnekristin

 

By Dr. Anne-Kristin Løes
Bioforsk Organic Food and Farming
Tingvoll, Norway

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Pujiang is a small town close to Chengdu, the capital of the Sechuan district of China. Being the location of several successful industrial companies, but also located in the middle of a very productive agricultural area, Pujiang works hard to develop a green industry and efficient ecological production of the local crop specialities, which are kiwi, citrus and tea. The area also has a large livestock industry (eggs). Pujiang mentions itself as “Green Pujiang Ecological City”; however, it should not be confused with Pujiang close to Shanghai, which was developed as an “ecological town” in Italian style during the 2010 World Expo. China was one of four countries competing to be

hosting the next IFOAM Organic World Congress, and the Chengdu region would have been the place to arrange this event if they had succeeded.

On Dec 12, 2014, the 2014 China (Chengdu) Organic Agricultural Forum, was arranged in Pujiang. This event was the 4th international organic agriculture (OA) summit arranged in China. It was hosted by Chengdu municipality, Department of agriculture in the Sichuan province, the Chineese newspaper and organisation “Farmers daily”, and several organic industry bodies. Scientifically it was supported by China Agricultural University in Beijing, where Dr. Wenliang Wu (ISOFAR board member since 2011) is a coordinator of organic agriculture research and education activities. It was also supported by the certification body Ecocert China. The title of the 2014 summit was “Healthy
Soil and Standard Certification”. 

About 220 participants attained the organic summit, mostly from the administrational and commercial side. Several industry partners participated, but no “individual farmers”.

Chinese agriculture is commonly organised as a cooperative industry, where individual farmers let the industry decide and plan the production, but all the manual work is carried out by the farmers on their share of the land.

The technical quality of the forum was excellent, with highly qualified simultaneous interpretations and a high standard meeting room. Talks in English were given by Marie Louise Flach de Nergaard, representing the Danish embassy in Beijing where 14 persons work to support an extensive Chinese-Danish food trade including organic produce, and by ISOFAR vice president Anne-Kristin Løes.

There were quite many formal opening talks, where mayors from the supporting bodies and regional party members expressed their interest in organic agriculture as a means to solve the critical environmental problems in China, and to ensure food quality. Ms. Yuxiang Zhang, director of China agri-products marketing association, explained that China has 24 certified organic companies, national action plans for organic agriculture, and several eco-cities such as Pujiang. IFOAM president André Leu was represented by the president of IFOAM Asia and IFOAM world board member, Dr. Zejiang Zhou, who emphasised the rapid growth of organic agriculture in China, putting this country as number 4 in the world with respect to certified organic area.

The topic presented by Anne-Kristin Løes was “Soil Ecosystem Quality Improvement of Organic Farming in Europe”. It was shown how organic agriculture can contribute to soil fertility by practices such as crop rotation, manures and mulches and careful soil management, supported by results from the long-term DOK study in Switzerland, and a long-term trial at Aarhus University, Denmark. Manure application is good for soil structure and creates a living soil with a high capacity to degrade organic matter, but still keep a stable humus in soil. Legumes are useful, but should rather be used in an anaerobic digestion treatment and then applied to soil as fertiliser, than mulched on the ground, to avoid N emissions. The need for good soil care was highlighted by a later speaker, Dr. Jiayi Yu, who emphasised the need to increase soil organic matter contents in Chinese soil, where this is often degraded from originally 7-9% to about 2%! There have been good reasons to press the land hard, with a rapidly increasing population and decreasing amount of land. Two yields per year are normal in most regions, and in some regions even three yields are taken. In China, when talking English, stakeholders distinguish between “ecological” production (which is probably what would be called “integrated” in Europe, e.g. with less dangerous pesticides), and organic.

Ecological production has no standards or certification by 3rd part. Controls have shown significant presence of fraud in organic produce and pesticide residues in products marketed as organic. This show the need for information and training, and for strict control systems. “Ecological civilization” was a concept that was much used during the forum. This can be seen as a development of society where organic agriculture is a source of inspiration. In the final, summarising presentation, Dr. Prof. Wenliang Wu referred to a “white paper” on organic agriculture that has recently been presented by the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China, CNCA. It has taken more than four year to produce, and it is a very thorough work to describe the current status of OA in whole China. There are more than 6000 SMEs certified organic in China, and close to 1 % of the farmland is organically managed. That comprises 1.3 mill hectares with China organic standard. In addition, there is significant collection of wild products. All 32 provinces of China have some certified organic production, and the growth is rapid. Due to heavy pollution, the interest for organic products among Chinese consumers is significant, but the premium prices are still very high (30-500 %). 

The afternoon was used for an excursion to organic kiwi, tea and production input industries. We were driving through a beautiful, diverse landscape, passing small villages on our way to kiwi fields and tea hills. We visited processing plants, but for a European person, it was not easy to really grasp what made the production organic since the interpretation service was not included in this part of the programme. The final visit was to Chengdu New Sun Crop Science industry, where “natural” pesticides and fertilisers were produced in several large buildings. We were ensured that only natural ingredients were used. However, organic agriculture should be something more than replacing conventional inputs by “organic” inputs. On the other side, it is of course better to avoid poisonous pesticides whenever possible, but natural compounds are not necessarily always harmless just because they are derived from nature. 

While in China, Anne-Kristin Løes also visited an experimental station for winter wheat, and the CAU in Beijing to discuss possibilities for future cooperation. ISOFAR leaflets were handed out to several potential members. Grateful for this great opportunity to visit an impressive country, I let the words in a poem, beautifully expressed in a calligraphic by Wenliang Wu, complete this report:

Green hills and blue waters - beautiful country scene. 

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Article published 30th of January 2015