Across China: Young urbanites enticed by customized farm produce

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-21 20:38:27|Editor: Yang Yi
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CHANGCHUN, Aug. 21 (Xinhua) -- In spring, Li Mingtong, a university student in Changchun, capital of the northeast China's Jilin Province, paid 500 yuan (75 U.S. dollars) to have a pomegranate tree organically cultivated. In fall, she received boxes containing the fruit from her tree, located thousands of kilometers away in southwest China's Yunnan Province.

"Though the pomegranates were very expensive, they are safe and taste good," she said. Li organized the customized service through an online shop earlier this year. She now plans to buy customized vegetables grown in the suburbs of Changchun.

As Chinese pay more attention to food safety, customized farm produce, grown without using pesticides or fertilizers, is attracting growing interest from well-off urban consumers, especially the young.

The Internet is assisting supply-side reform in agriculture. Customers can rent a piece of land online and choose which varieties of vegetables they want to have grown there. Many farms have cameras so that customers can monitor the growth of their produce on their mobile phones or computers.

"This not only ensures green food, but also offers an opportunity for our family to enjoy pastoral scenery during our free time," said Xu Li, another Changchun resident.

"Our fruit and vegetables are all organic. We adopted a membership model for the sale and delivery of produce to our clients," Chen Zhao, general manager of Chunjiangyan farm in Nongan County, Changchun, said at the 16th China Changchun International Agriculture and Food Fair, which closed Sunday.

The farm has 47 vegetable and fruit greenhouses and 1,000 members. Each day, more than 100 Changchun residents receive vegetables delivered from the farm, according to Chen.

"Our capacity is insufficient. For example, when our cantaloupes were ready for sale, we could only meet half the demand from our customers," he said.

The Chinese government has required deepening of supply-side structural reform in agriculture, improving of the sector's structure, promoting of green production and innovation, and extending of the sector's industrial and value chain.

According to a report released last year by Ali Research Institute affiliated to e-commerce giant Alibaba, China had 65 million "online green consumers" in 2015, 15 times as many as in 2011.

Green products include organic and additive-free food and environmentally-friendly household commodities such as furniture and clothes. Green consumption has spread most rapidly among young people aged from 23 to 28, according to the research.

"Our pigs have serial numbers. We have cameras in their pens so that our customers can check their condition at any time on their mobile phones," Pei Feng, from an agricultural cooperative in Siping, said at the Changchun agriculture fair.

The pigs are fed corn and bean pulp. The cooperative does not use any antibiotics or hormones, according to Pei, who added their services are expanding.

The green model for customized agri-products has been piloted in many other places, such as Beijing and northwestern China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

China has more than 10,000 accredited green food companies producing more than 26,000 types of products, according to statistics from the China Green Food Development Center, which oversees the country's organic food standards.

Despite the huge potential for customized produce, there are some concerns about whether the products are organic.

Technology such as cameras can record the cultivation methods to some extent, but the certification of organic products requires a large investment, said a farm worker in Jilin.

Some green farm produce does not have organic certification.

"Consumers pay high prices for customized produce to ensure safety. But the industry is still in the beginning stages. There are both good and bad producers," said Zhao Yumin, secretary-general of Jilin Specialty Products Processing Association.

It is difficult for consumers to confirm if their products are organic or not, therefore certification by professional agencies is necessary to boost reliability, said Zhao.

Liu Yuansheng with Jilin University of Finance and Economics, said the key to selling customized agri-products lucratively lies in the application of a traceability system, which is currently a weak link.