Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Russian Roulette with Chinese Vegetables

I really try to support local food wherever I go. I don’t as much care about the organic aspect of it, because as I saw today there is nothing growing here that could ever be called organic. I will truly try to keep this as short and informative as possible so hang on tight. It will be a depressing ride:

First some general facts that might be important to know before going into details.

Farmers still make up 36.7 percent of the Chinese labor force
Great that was the fun part and now it gets depressing.

Here some excerpts from my thesis I wrote last year:

Since 1978 China’s use of chemical fertilizers has increased sixfold from 8,840,000 tons in 1978 to 57,470,000 in 2007. Despite this immense increase, only 30 percent of fertilizer applied to agricultural crops are used effectively.
The International Cooperation on Environment and Development found that approximately 1.23 million tons of nitrogen are being discharged annually into Chinese rivers and lakes.
China’s average fertilizer consumption on cultivated land is 356.7 kilogram per hectare, which is twofold of the maximum amount of fertilizer consumption in developed countries.
BASICALLY a lot of nitrogen and other chemicals from the really terrible fertilizer runs into rivers and lakes without getting any treatment. This is a vicious cycle since it decreases the nutrients in the soil, will produce a lower yield, which will lead to farmers using more fertilizer. Not included in this mathematical equation is all the waste that gets into the plants from the ground water. (Pictures can be seen below)
So based on this research I did I knew that I should not expect anything too exciting from a so called organic farm near Dali and rest assured I was not wrong.
The family decided to be one of the first families in the valley to not use chemical fertilizer. However, everything really did not add up all that much.
1.) Their crops were planted right next to a runoff from other farmer’s field, which was so polluted you could smell the chemicals. Here a picture I took of this problem:

 Here another stream right next to their crops:

2.) The family bought the fields a year prior from a farming family that had used chemical fertilizer. This had decreased the biological matter in the soil so much, that plants had little chance to grow strong without the use of it. Here a side by side comparison of the two.
 (The left ones are without fertilizer) 
By the way: the USDA requires the soil to rest for 3 years before vegetables can be planted on the fields if they should be organic. 
 I really loved their enthusiasm about the whole thing and it is definitely great that locals start to realize the issues surrounding chemical fertilizer. But sadly I doubt that this will go anywhere. The plants on their fields are just as polluted from chemicals as their neighbors’ vegetables that do use fertilizer. I think they underestimate how far a watershed spans and what that means for their plants.
 Needless to say I helped them harvest carrots and I ate one despite everything I saw. I eat vegetables in China almost everyday and I know what I am putting in my stomach is not too good for my health, but what should be the alternative to that?
This is where the Russian Roulette aspect comes in.... you never know what will happen when eating Chinese vegetables. 50 percent chance of your stomach being nice to you. 

My only advice is to check the origin of your food when you are at the super market the next time. Make sure that it doesn’t come from China…. Sounds crazy, but trust me….. especially the garlic.

Next post I will post some pictures of a failed attempt to clean the Erhai lake. It’ll be just as unsettling as the agricultural crisis. 
Fun Fact of the day: Government Officials have their own designated farmers who will only grow veggies for them. Those veggies are 200% organic with no chemicals in them and watered only with the best water. The officials know whats up and don't want to eat "peasant vegetables" themselves. ... Pretty terrible if you ask me. 

To end things on a good note: A dog with puffy PJs on! 

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