China: Land of Growing Contrasts

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After four days of discussion about China’s food system, a main take-away is how the modern and the old exist side by side. Just as modern skyscrapers tower over centuries-old ancestral homes in mega-cities, modern hog farms are springing up next to backyard operations.

"I am simply amazed at what some Chinese farmers have accomplished," Hans Jöhr, corporate head of agriculture for Nestlé, the world’s largest milk buyer, told Brock Associates following his presentation at the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association’s World Symposium in Shanghai, China. "I was on a farm with 4,000 dairy cows managed by a young man in his twenties who, prior to three years earlier, had never had any experience in the dairy industry. Now he is running a state-of-the-art operation."

Likewise, backyard pigs once merely provided food processing and waste disposal for the family’s food scraps. Today adoption of balanced feeding and better genetics are transforming the performance metrics of world’s largest pork producer and consumer, according to Nick Rosa, managing director of ContiAsia. "Thirty years ago, it took two years for a pig to reach market weight. Today, with balanced feed, it takes six months."

These contrasts, along with others such as cities where the average person on the sidewalk is in their twenties or thirties, versus rural towns where you find no one between the ages of 15 and 50 – or sparkling supermarkets owned by global companies next to the unrefrigerated "wet markets" where fresh meat and produce are sold the same day they are produced – will continue to exist for decades to come.

The needs of global companies such as Kentucky Fried Chicken – the top U.S. fast food chain in China, opening a new store every 17 minutes – are driving a need to standardize products. Yet the aging population, especially in rural areas, continues to support traditional preferences.

Akarin Gaw, executive director of business development for China Merchants Americold, a refrigeration logistics company, told Brock Associates, "In a country as large and with the resource constraints of China, the food industry faces many challenges. There is no one answer that will fit all situations. Instead, we will continue to see both models – the old and the new – exist side by side for many years to come."

 

Editor’s note: Richard Brock, Corn & Soybean Digest's marketing editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.

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