China’s ambitious program of urbanization gets a lot of attention, but it is far from complete. Nearly half of China’s population works in agriculture, mostly farming small plots that average less than one hectare per household. In the US, in contrast, farming employs less than 2% of the population, and the average farm is more than 600 hectares.
So when natural disasters wipe out crops and the cost of farm inputs rise, the negative effects can put millions of Chinese families at risk. Margins are already razor thin for producers of products from cabbages to pigs. Most growers can only hope for continued government support and an abundant late harvest.
Li Xianjing, vegetable farmer with a 0.4-hectare farm near Wuhan, Hubei province
I grow different vegetables at different times of the year – it’s soybean season now. In total, I earn about RMB30,000 (US$4,640) a year, and that barely makes ends meet. Fertilizers are expensive, and droughts and floods have cut our output. I support the goal of food security, but I think the government should import seeds with higher yields. Foreign seeds are usually really expensive, so I use Chinese seeds now. People are concerned about food safety. And from a farmer’s perspective, it would be great to have more affordable organic seeds and fertilizers on the market.
Mr. Chen, manager at SunSing Livestock Poultry in Shanghai
Shanghai SunSing has 10 hog farms, and we process around 65,000 hogs annually. The impact of inflation on our business has been obvious – our profit margins have declined in the past few years because of the rising price of pig feed. We benefit from government subsidies, and some of our hogs go into the government stockpile. I’ve always thought the government should take measures to protect domestic agricultural producers instead of importing foreign products.
Mr. Wu, garlic producer in Jinxiang, Shandong province
We haven’t made money from producing garlic in a long time. Supply is usually greater than demand in our market – except for last year, that is, when speculators were hoarding the stuff and the price of garlic soared. In my opinion, the government shouldn’t allow more foreign imports of agricultural products, but we could adapt better technology from overseas. Farmers still account for a big proportion of the Chinese population, and China is a great country with lots of resources. We can not only meet our own demands, but also feed people overseas.
Zhao Hui, triticale (a hybrid grain) producer with a 40-hectare farm outside of Shanghai
My profit margins have not changed dramatically during the past few years, but they have declined a little due to the rising cost of labor, pesticides and land taxes. Although costs continue to rise, I haven’t raised my prices and I don’t plan to do so this year. This year, the first drought and later the torrential rain in the south has decreased our output by nearly 50 kilograms per acre. I don’t get subsidies from the government, but I think that domestic agricultural products should be protected. The government should not allow more foreign imports. Meeting China’s goal of food security is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
Mr. Wang, a marketing manager at a Shanghai-based meat supplier
Our company supplies meat to well-known supermarkets and department stores in Shanghai, like Carrefour, City Shop, Isetan and Grand Gateway. Our business hasn’t really been affected by bad weather or inflation, since we sign contracts with vendors one year in advance. I think food security is a serious problem at present. There are more and more news reports about different kinds of chemically-contaminated foods, and people are losing their faith in the government and its regulators. I can’t make suggestions for the government, but as a meat provider, we are taking action ourselves to ensure that the products we source are safe.