China’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor learns to adapt

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO - Ed Zhang

Some changes are strik­ing. Other changes are more strik­ing, but not so when looked at, such as the farms in the northern part of the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, where I worked in the 1970s.

I took a trip there re­cently. They are the same farms. I used to know them so well; the roads, canals, and large swaths of green crops ex­tend­ing all the way to the hori­zon.

But take a closer look at them: there are no more work­ers car­ry­ing spades on their shoul­ders, busy run­ning up and down the canal.

This Day, That Year

The only farm­worker I met was rest­ing in his Toy­ota Corolla out­side a com­put­er­con­trolled pump­ing sta­tion con­nected to a re­gional drip ir­ri­ga­tion net­work, “a sys­tem taught by the Is­raelis”.

The crops, I learned, were all cot­ton. There is no sum­mer har­vest for wheat nowa­days.

“The State has had enough grain, I think. It wants us to grow just cot­ton,” the worker said.

The farms of the Xin­jiang Pro­duc­tion and Con­struc­tion Corps now grow half of the cot­ton in Xin­jiang, with a “qual­ity next only to the Egyp­tian prod­uct.”

No more cot­ton pick­ers, ei­ther, as Xin­jiang used to need ev­ery au­tumn — train­loads of them from all other prov­inces.

“We drive cot­ton com­bines from Amer­ica.”

From where I stood, close to 4,000 kilo­me­ters away from the sea in any di­rec­tion, there were ir­ri­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy from Is­rael, ma­te­rial for fine tex­tile ex­ports to the world, and farm ma­chin­ery from the United States.

The world is not only flat. It’s like a kitchen of East-West fu­sion, where the chef cease­lessly comes up with new recipes. The change can be up­set­ting at times, ad­mit­tedly.

If I were sent back to work on those farms, I would have to learn my job all over again. For­tu­nately I don’t have to; I went to col­lege in the early 1980s.

So the ul­ti­mate chal­lenge is that you must learn to adapt, and to build for yourself a new way of life. The other day, a young col­league of mine asked Jim Rogers, co-founder with Ge­orge Soros of the leg­endary Quan­tum Fund, which in­dus­tries are good for in­vest­ment. The an­swer was: “If I were you, I would build a farm.”

The world has a greater need than ever for more good foods.

To pro­duce them, one will learn not only to adopt Is­raeli ir­ri­ga­tion meth­ods, and to drive Amer­i­can farm ma­chines.

A lat­est re­quire­ment is to op­er­ate agri­cul­tural drones, which are in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar and al­ready make up 70 per­cent of China’s drone mar­ket.

Con­tact the writer at edzhang@ chi­


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