BEIJING – Xu Lei, a 33-year-old stay-at-home mother, decided to goorganic by planting her own fruit and vegetables inside her apartment indowntown Beijing. She is now able to harvest a variety of produce,including tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, pumpkins and potatoes.
“I hope my husband and my little daughter can eat more healthily byplanting our own dinner table food,” said Xu. “Of course, if thesevegetables are not sufficient for our family, then I will go to supermarketsfor more organic food.”
Organic food is produced using methods that do not involve modernsynthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, arenot genetically modified, and are not processed using irradiation,industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.
In recent years, China has witnessed a surge in organic farming amongordinary people who advocate the use of traditional farming methodswithout the use of artificial fertilizers or pesticides. Many white-collarworkers who live in downtown Beijing even travel to the suburbs, rent aplot of land and cultivate their own vegetables and fruit, spendingweekends toiling over the soil.
“Organic food has become more and more popular in recent years,” said a saleswoman calledWang at a Beijing Ito Yokado Store, which supplies a range of organic food from Xiaotangshan inBeijing’s Changping district. “Sales of organic food are especially good during the weekend whenpeople stay at home and have the time to cook their own meals.”
According to Ursula Chen, a former consultant to the United States Agricultural Trade Office inGuangzhou, nearly all supermarkets on the Chinese mainland have doubled their shelf space fororganic goods. Imported organic products are also available in some high-end retail stores.
The Chinese consumers are now believed to consume more than twice as much organic food ashealth-conscious Japan. The Chinese government statistics show the market is worth about 10billion yuan ($1.55 billion), having quadrupled over the past five years.
The booming demand has driven many companies to try to corner the market. Beijing LeadingGreen Food Co Ltd is one of them.
An oasis in a Beijing suburb, the organic food company covers an area of 8.67 hectares, which isfull of organic mushrooms.
“We invested 115 million yuan in the company and made a 20 percent net profit by sellingmushrooms,” said Li Dajiang, board chairman of Beijing Leading Green Food.
The company’s annual output has reached 5 million kilograms, and sales revenue of the company isnow 100 million yuan annually, Li said.
Most of the company’s organic food goes to supermarkets in Beijing, Tianjin, Shenyang andShijiazhuang. But “if demand of organic mushrooms continue to climb at home and abroad, we willconsider doing business overseas, of course”.
According to the China Organic Food Certification Center, a top organic food certification agencyunder the Ministry of Agriculture, the country’s organic exports totaled $350 million in 2006 (themost recent available data), and have continued to surge.
The country now represents 5 percent of global trade in such products. China now ranks thirdworldwide in organic farmland, after Australia and Argentina, up from 45th in 2000.
Fueled by the rising demand, an estimated 2 million hectares of farmland are under organiccultivation, while some 1,400 companies and farms have been certified organic.
According to the agency, most of the organic produce are shipped to closer markets such as Japan,Hong Kong, and Taiwan. But organic soybeans, rice and other grains, along with frozen vegetablesand fruit concentrate, also travel to the US and European markets.
Scholars believe that exports are the main driving engine behind the sector’s growth. But Li fromBeijing Leading Organic Food thinks the domestic market is playing a key role.
“Most of my counterparts and friends’ orders come from Chinese retailers, and I believe theprosperity in the ‘green’ food industry will stay robust over the next decades.”