A study being conducted in China’s Shandong province, led by Dr Jiang Gaoming of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Botany, is hoping to promote organic farming in China as a means not just of dealing with chemical contamination but of solving the problem of increasing soil degradation.
Chinese agricultural produce has a woeful reputation throughout the developed world as tainted and potentially toxic. In 2008, there was the melamine milk report and, in 2009, a test of vegetables in Beijing markets conducted by Greenpeace revealed toxic levels of chemicals such as carbofuran and Methamidophos. In one sample of cucumbers and strawberries, more than 13 types of chemicals were found, some at dangerous levels. In April this year, the cadmium rice scandal made world news headlines. Despite apparently little effective progress in preventing this kind of contamination, it seems that Chinese agricultural authorities are interested in supporting research into chemical-free methods of farming as a means of dealing with the problem of contamination.
The site of Dr Jiang Gaoming’s research has been several plots of unproductive land at Hongyi Organic Farm in Shandong Province. Dr Gaoding contends that the farm is an outstanding example of the potential of organic farming. A common argument against organic farming methods is that if all farms were to convert to organic practices, they would not be able to produce enough food collectively to feed the world’s population, because organic farming has higher costs than conventional farming but produces smaller yields. Dr Gaoming claims his results show that this is not necessarily the case.
The yields he and his team have been able to achieve show that by using organic fertiliser and soil-building techniques, poor soil can be turned into productive soil and, with each subsequent season, this productivity increases. Initial yields may be less than those of conventional farms nearby but eventually, the yields of organic farms become equal to, then overtake those of conventional farms. Shandong has been suffering from severe drought, with conventional grain growers producing between 250 and 300 kilograms of grain per mu (about 667 m2) of land; in comparison, after five years of using organic methods, Hongyi Farm produced 547.9 kg of corn and 480.5 kg of wheat per mu of land.
Dr Gaoming hopes that his research will help to address what he perceives to be a bias against organic farming. He is convinced that organic farming practices must be adopted and supported if China is to overcome the challenges of chemical contamination and loss of soil fertility.