Sustainable Agriculture Conference in China
October 12, 1993
On September 5-13, an international conference on Integrated
Resource Management for Sustainable Agriculture held in
Beijing provided a rare glimpse into the intensifying debate
over the future course of Chinese agriculture. Approximately
100 Chinese and 60 foreign participants discussed topics
ranging from biological control of specific pests to national
and international policy initiatives to promote sustainable
While most of the participants were interested in discussing
the need to reduce inputs and improve long-term
sustainability, the conference reflected the growing
influence of international chemical manufacturers in China.
Of the 30 participants invited to address the full assembly,
three were representatives of the International Potash and
Phosphate Institute speaking on the need to maintain or
increase reliance on chemical fertilizer in China.
Application rates for imported chemical fertilizers and
pesticides in East China are already among the highest in the
world, and transnational corporations are establishing
Chinese trade and "research" offices to exploit this growing
Several of the presentations by Chinese participants outlined
the technical, social, and political obstacles which must be
overcome in order to promote truly sustainable agriculture.
Li Xiaoyun, Director of the Center for Integrated
Agricultural Development (CIAD) in Beijing, argued that,
given the Chinese government's policy of modernization and
economic sustainability, the greatest challenge will be to
introduce concepts of sustainability at the policy level. Li
said that this challenge is being taken up by an increasing
number of Chinese scientists but they have only limited
influence. Wang Dehai, also of CIAD, reported that
institutional barriers to sustainable agriculture extend to
the local level of the agricultural extension service.
Extension agents do not educate farmers about sustainable
alternatives because now, due to extensive budget cuts, they
are too busy selling fertilizers and pesticides for the
Cheng Xu, Vice President of Beijing Agricultural University,
outlined technical and social restraints to agricultural
development (conventional or sustainable) in China, not the
least of which is increasing rural unemployment. He called
for the development of a "Chinese ecological agriculture,"
which would be directly substitute labor for capital inputs.
The term "ecological agriculture" is appearing more
frequently in Chinese agricultural publications, and it may
represent a growing desire to reduce the use of chemicals and
other costly inputs.
Though non-governmental voices were conspicuously absent,
after the official closing of the conference, Kathy Lawrence
of the NGO Working Group on Sustainable Agriculture, was able
to address the assembly. While domestic "Peoples'
Organizations" are forming in China, it is still politically
difficult for them to present ideas at such conferences. Of
course, this does not explain the absence of international
NGO's. In the future, international NGOs will hopefully
increase their efforts to bring information and support to
sustainable agriculture advocates in China.
Source/contact: Paul Thiers is the former China Program
Coordinator for the BioIntegral Resource Center and is
currently studying agricultural politics at the University of
Oregon. His address: 3610 Kincaid, Eugene OR 97405, USA;
phone (503) 485-4277; email email@example.com.
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