Jun 20, 2013 07:06 PM

New Model of Organic Farming Sprouts Up in Suburbs of Big Cities


(Beijing) – A new model of locally organized organic farming has taken root in Beijing and Shanghai in recent years, and an academic says it could be a viable way for the industry to blossom.

The model – an alternative to large-scale organic farming – sees farmers in the suburbs of large cities grow produce on their own or in groups. They then sell the fruits and vegetables to city-dwellers.

Du Xiangge, a professor at China Agricultural University, said recently that this approach could be an efficient way to develop the industry.  

Increasingly affluent Chinese consumers are showing greater interest in organic products, largely due to food-safety concerns. The country is set to become the world's largest market for organic foods in the next five to 10 years, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements says.

However, insiders say the industry presents challenges in terms of production and management. The industry is labor- and knowledge-intensive, and is demanding in its requirements for fertilizer and pesticide use. In these early stages of the industry, insiders say large-scale organic farming is proving difficult.

These problems with large-scale farming have created an opportunity for small farmers. They are essentially borrowing a model of locally based of agriculture and distribution that began in the United States in the 1980s.

Two examples in Beijing are Little Donkey Farm and Sharing Harvest. Little Donkey, established in 2008, has hired more than 70 farming households to plant for the company. It has more than 1,000 customers.

Sharing Harvest buys organic products from farmers and has more than 500 customers.

These two companies employ a model that sees customers sign contracts with farmers, who are paid in advance for a year's worth of produce.

In this way, customers and farmers shoulder production risks together, and farmers do not need to worry about price fluctuations.

Chang Tianle, an organizer of the organic farmers fair in Beijing, said the business has thrived, but better government regulation was needed to ensure produce was indeed organic.

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