SHANGHAI, CHINA — Most of the 26 million people living in the largest city in the world have never seen a farm. They have never fished. And they have never had the chance to relax in the countryside and enjoy seeing their nation’s agriculture in action.
Zhang Youliang wants to change all that.
Like Ohio, which recently approved an “agritourism” bill to promote farm tourism in our state, Youliang hopes the efforts he is spearheading will lead to a boom in agriculture tourism in southeast China.
As Director of Fisheries Technology Extension Station of Songjiang District, Shanghai, Youliang is also general manager of Maotian Wetland Ecological Agriculture Development Co. Ltd. , which owns the large aquaculture facility on the sprawling complex.
Sitting in the newly constructed lodge building for the future agritourism facility, Youliang told Rural Life Today through a translator that bringing the millions of city residents — Shanghainese residents — into the country is vital for the nation’s economy and future – and more. How important is this ongoing agriculture project?
“It is important both economically and socially. There must be three factors before agritourism here is possible,” he told Rural Life Today during a tour of the new visitors center/lodge.
“First, the people have to have money, they have to have transportation like a vehicle, and they have to have time. So now, most of the residents in Shanghai have these three factors, these three elements,” Youliang pointed out.
In the new agritourism facility about 40 miles outside of the center of Shanghai, there are restaurants, places where people can relax, play cards, and outside they can fish.
“Now, the public needs to have a place to spend their money, to spend their time. So, for the Shanghai resident, they do intensive work all week at their jobs, so they want to relax, and a place on the outskirts of Shanghai, it would be perfect for them,” he said.
Youliang said this agritourism facility will be very beneficial to these residents. “The second group of people who would benefit from this would be the local farmers. With an increase in machinery in agriculture, there is a greater surplus in labor in the countryside. By operating agritourism, these people can find a job, to provide a service to the people in the cities.”
Also, this means they can directly sell their cash crops to the visitors – melons, fresh fruits, poultry and fish, he added. “This is a win-win for everyone. That is why we think agritiourism is so important both socially and economically.”
Will this expand in the future?
“Both groups of people want to see more agritourism in the future. The people in the cities want it because it will give them more selection, and local farmers want it too, so they will have more windows to sell their products and more opportunities for jobs,” he said.
But, how much growth will depend on the government. He said the Chinese government is hesitant to set aside too much usable land for agritourism because of the need to use land for production as much as possible. “We will see what happens in the future.”
Dr. Allan E. Lines, retired Ohio State University Extension international agriculture expert, is not surprised by this growth in agritourism in China.
“When you stop and think about the influence of that many people – 1.3 billion people, several times the population of the U.S. – , and when you give them money to spend, which has happened in the last 15 years, they are becoming more like Americans,” Dr. Lines said.
“They are spending money beyond just food, looking at areas of recreation. That will have so much influence, such an impact.”
Dr. Lines was in China about 20 years ago. “We had a little of that when we were there. What struck me on the agritourism side are the recent USDA numbers from 2014. According to the numbers there were 29 million farmers that benefited from agritourism in China, according to The China Daily. Do you realize how many farmers there are in the U.S. ? maybe a couple of million. And the income for these farmers amounted to $44 billion. And then, comparing it to the U.S. during the same time, there were 33,000 farmers who participated in agritourism compared to the 28 million in China. And the receipts in the U.S. rounded off to about $700 million in revenue.”
Dr. Lines said he thought, “Wow, I didn’t realize this. There is now public policy there to facilitate these operations. It is the number of people and the government commitment. It is mostly the public investment in the development of rural China. We are just starting to make such investments.” And the recent approval by the Ohio legislature to pass a new agritourism bill for the state is an example of that movement.
There are about 200 million rural families in China, but that figure is expected to fall to 100 million when the family farm structure matures and around 50 percent of rural families move to the cities, according to The China Times.
A long-running, but little known, pilot program called “Family Farms” is starting to reshape the agricultural demographic in China.
Although the program has been in limited use for several years, it recently won official backing. In January of this year, China’s first policy document of the year – known as the “No 1 central policy” and regarded as a weather vane for the annual agriculture policy – mentioned the term “family farm” for the first time.
For China, that is a major shift in policy – and attitude.
Gary Brock can be reached at 937-556-5759 or at GBrock4.