Documentary Teaches Chinese Farmers, 'What's Organic?'

Demand has grown for organic produce among Chinese urbanites, but at least in one province, the farmers have yet to catch up.

Terraced Rice Fields in the Yunnan Province, China

Jialiang Gao, www.peace-on-earth.org, CC BY-SA 2.5

Over the past few years, middle-class, urban Chinese folks have started buying organic. Constant news about new food-safety scandals has kindled their demand for what they see as cleaner, healthier food. Meanwhile, at least in one agricultural province, many farmers still aren't familiar with the concept of organic agriculture. But a local journalist has been teaching them, as well as local shoppers, with field trips, workshops, and a documentary supported by the Chinese government.

Li Yuan, a journalist for a newspaper in Kunming, China, produced a 25-minute documentary called "Ecological Growing" to teach shoppers and farmers about what organic produce is. Kunming could use it. It's in the Yunnan province in southwestern China, where the province's largest lake has received so much agricultural runoff that it's pea-green with algae. The government considers its water unfit for human contact.

Chinese farmers use about twice as much fertilizer to produce a ton of grain as U.S. farmers do, according to the Earth Policy Institute. That's in part because U.S. farmers are better aware of exactly how much fertilizer they should use. Li thinks some Chinese farmers use as much as five times as much fertilizer as their American counterparts would because they mistakenly believe they'll get higher yields that way.

Chinadialogue reports Li's "Ecological Growing" is simple enough for kids to understand. "We didn't want to overwhelm viewers with statistics and science. The film is a starting point for many people," Li told the environmental news website.

The idea is that Li's documentary will help catch Yunnanites up with the Beijing and Tianjin residents they feed. Yunnan produce is a "hot commodity" in those cities, Chinadialogue reports. In spite of its environmental troubles, the province is pastoral, pretty, and low in density compared to other areas in China. City-dwellers see it as a source of safe, clean produce.