Food and agriculture

Food and agriculture

Latest news, in-depth features and opinion on food and agriculture, with a focus on Hong Kong, mainland China and Asia.

Locust threat looms for Chinese farmers still reeling from coronavirus
China has raised its alert to prepare for the possibility that swarms of locusts that have laid waste to agricultural land in Pakistan, India and East Africa find their way across its borders, a government agency said on Monday. “Although experts believe that the risk of swarms entering the country and causing disaster is relatively low, [China] will be hampered in tracking the locusts by a lack of monitoring techniques and little knowledge of migration patterns [if they do] invade,” the National Forestry and Grassland Administration said in an emergency notice on its website. Beijing has convened a task force to watch for, control and – if possible – prevent the arrival of the voracious ins
Chinese farmers are watching their crops rot because of virus lockdown
Jiang Junsheng has already pulped over a ton of garlic, turning the unwanted crop into fertilizer, but he still has to figure out how to dispose of nearly 5.5 tons of sweet potatoes, cabbages and other vegetables at his organic farm in central China. Jiang has tried halving prices for his top-quality goods, but there has been almost no interest in the products in the last month because the coronavirus forced transportation networks to a grinding halt. “In normal years, I would have sold $5,720 worth of vegetables in the three weeks after the Lunar New Year holiday. This year, it’s nearly zero,” the 39-year-old farmer said from his fields in the central province of Henan. Jiang uses an organ
China is exporting tons of killer fungus to fight locusts in Africa
Chinese factories are producing thousands of tons of a “green zombie fungus” to help fight the swarms of locusts in East Africa. Metarhizium is a genus of fungi with nearly 50 species – some genetically modified – that is used as a biological insecticide. Its roots drill through the insects’ hard exoskeleton and gradually poisons them. In China, it was named lu jiang jun, which means “green zombie fungus,” because it gradually turns its victims into a green mossy lump. There are now dozens of factories across the country dedicated to producing its spores and, despite the curbs introduced to stop the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, many of them have resumed operations and are
Science, espionage and paranoia in US-China relations
A smartly dressed Chinese man was spotted in a field in rural Iowa, in the United States, in autumn 2011. This was enough to raise suspicion in a community that was 97% white and the local police went to check it out. Thus began perhaps one of the stranger cases of industrial espionage in recent years, one that highlights the threat of industrial theft and the overblown atmosphere of fear and mistrust that exists between the United States and China over intellectual property and trade. The field in question was planted with genetically modified seed lines developed by agricultural giant Monsanto, a company that guards its intellectual property – like hybrid seeds and fertilizer – with great
China is developing a huge appetite for cheese and butter
Something smells funny in China. Cheese and other dairy products are not part of the traditional Chinese diet, yet there has been a surge in dairy imports. According to European Commission data, the volume of Europe’s cheese exports to China in the first 11 months of this year was 24% higher than for the whole of 2018, amounting to more than 20,000 tons. Exports of European butter to the country have grown at an even greater pace this year – by 36%. Cheese has historically been alien to the diet in China, where research shows that a great many people are lactose intolerant. However, a 2018 report by China’s National Institute for Nutrition and Health found that Chinese citizens needed encour
Armed to fight drones, China’s pig farmers busted for disrupting flights
Pig farms in China are fighting a high-tech war with gangsters reportedly plotting to profit off a national pork crisis. A pig farm in northeastern China deployed anti-drone equipment following rumors that gangs were trying to spread African swine fever by airdropping the virus into farms. The goal was to scare farmers into selling their livestock at a discount. African swine fever poses no risk to human health but is fatal to pigs. The disease has reduced China’s hog herds by over 40% due to mass culls designed to stop further spreading of the disease. The Chinese authorities uncovered the use of anti-drone devices after a number of pilots complained about losing GPS signals while flying ov
China faces ‘huge challenge’ in living up to US trade promises
China has released fewer details about its trade deal with the US than the American side has – a sign of caution as one government adviser warned it would not be easy for Beijing to live up to its commitments. “For China, committing to and carrying out the phase one agreement is a huge challenge,” Shi Yinhong, a Chinese government adviser and international relations professor at Renmin University, said. “China will need to buy something like $300 billion worth of US products in the next two years and lots more US agricultural goods. Does China need that amount of US soybeans?”  A fact sheet released by Washington on Friday said China and the US had reached a “phase one” agreement on nine are
Chinese gangs intentionally spread African swine fever for profit
Chinese criminals have been exploiting the country’s African swine fever crisis by intentionally spreading the disease, or misinformation about the disease, to upsell pork, state media has reported.  The gangs use strong-arm tactics to force farmers to sell their pigs for a low price before smuggling the meat to other parts of China. They use forgery and bribery to resell it as healthy stock at a markup. Sometimes the gangs spread rumors about the virus, but in more extreme cases they use drones to drop infected items into farms, according to an investigation by the magazine China Comment, which is affiliated to state news agency Xinhua. African swine fever is not a risk to human health, b
China is breeding an army of beetles to fight a ‘terrifying’ pest
Scientists are breeding millions of beetles for a battle against a weed that threatens to choke rivers across China and clog the country’s famed Three Gorges Dam. Alligator weed is native to South America but was introduced to the Yangtze River in 1937 by the occupying Japanese as a feed crop for their horses. After the second world war, it was grown across southern China for animal feed, garden greening and herbal medicine. It was not until the 1980s that researchers realized what people living along the river knew – the prolific alligator weed was a menace. Other crops such as rice could not compete with the weed for nutrients, sunlight and space, and it began to choke the life out of fis
China’s pork shortage puts dog meat back on the menu
Like most small restaurants in this rural part of Wanan county in the eastern province of Jiangxi, the Little Wealth God does not have a menu. Diners go directly to the kitchen to pick vegetables, fish and raw meat, and let the chef know how they would like them cooked. But due to its spiraling price, China’s most popular meat, pork, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, many locals are opting for a traditional dish that had lost appeal until recently. “Why not choose dog meat if you want some meat?” the waiter recommended, adding high prices meant most diners no longer felt it worthwhile to order pork. Renewed interest in dog meat is just one of the side-effects that a massive pork shortage, cau