Province nurtures plan on green-food exports

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 12:00am

Heilongjiang, the northeastern Chinese province, is counting on environmentally friendly green food as the growth engine for its large agricultural sector.

The province plans to raise income from the cultivation, processing and marketing of green food to 20 per cent of total agricultural revenue by 2010, up from the 13.6 per cent forecast for this year, said provincial vice-governor Shen Liguo.

According to the plan, 12 per cent of the province's farmland will be converted for green-food cultivation, a rise of more than 5 per cent over this year.

Green food is the Chinese answer to the organic food movement that has swept Western countries. Beijing's official green-food standards, though considered by Western experts as less stringent than international organic food standards, seek to minimise the use of synthetic chemicals in food production.

The Chinese government has been promoting green food in an attempt to tame widespread abuses of chemical fertilisers and pesticides that have seriously tarnished the image of Chinese agriculture and dimmed the sector's export prospects.

A Chinese agricultural expert has estimated that about 60 per cent of vegetables and fruits consumed in Beijing contain harmful levels of chemical residues.

Domestic experts argue that green food will help Chinese agricultural products break through the import barriers in the Western economies, notably Japan and the European Union.

The task has gained extra urgency with China's pending entry to the World Trade Organisation, which sounded the alarm bell for the country's fragmented and backward agricultural sector.

Beijing also sees green food as a means to raise rural income, which, after a spurt of growth in the 1980s, has stagnated in recent years and is lagging far behind average urban income.

Low rural income has been the main concern in the countryside.

Production of green food raised the per capita income of Heilongjiang peasants by 380 yuan (about HK$357) last year, according to an official study recently.

That represented 17.6 per cent of the average income of about 20 million Heilongjiang peasants, estimated to be 2,150 yuan last year, said provincial officials yesterday.

The officials are in Hong Kong to promote green-food products and hope to attract foreign investment for 70 projects worth four billion yuan, mostly in green-food production and processing.

Agriculture accounts for about 16 per cent of Heilongjiang's gross domestic product. The province has led the country in green-food production, with 690,000 hectares planted and a nine billion yuan turnover expected this year.