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China food safety

China plans to develop 1,000 ‘Slow Food Villages’ within five years

Ambitious goal seeks to preserve food culture of rural communities and make village life more appealing to urban dwellers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 4:18pm

The head of the China branch of a global organisation that seeks to prevent the disappearance of grass-roots food culture and traditions has announced plans for the development of 1,000 “Slow Food Villages” across the country over the next five years.

“In recent years, China has shifted towards a greener, environmental and ecological model of growth so the conditions are now right for us to [get more involved in] Slow Food,” Sun Qun, secretary general of Slow Food Great China, said.

Slow Food was established as a movement in Italy in 1989. According to its website, it now involves millions of people in more than 160 countries, and works to ensure “everyone has access to good, clean and fair food”.

Sun was speaking after the close of the annual Slow Food International Congress, which was held in Chengdu, capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province, from September 29 to October 1. As a country, China has been involved in the movement for just two years, but the local branch has big plans for the future.

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Sun said the concept of the Slow Food Village would be a first for China, and the community of Anren, in Dayi county near Chengdu, had been selected as the pilot for the scheme.

He did not say exactly what form the development would take, but said it would get under way within a year. The organisers also hoped to show off the new-look village at the next Slow Food congress, which is expected to be held in the Italian city of Turin in September next year.

Detailed plans for the development of Anren would be released before the end of this year, Sun said.

China’s rapid urbanisation over the past four decades had caused the demise of villages and village life, Sun said.

“Farmers’ interests have been sacrificed. Many people who now live in towns and cities, but who were born and grew up in villages have nowhere to return to,” he told the South China Morning Post.

“Some people have made billions of yuan, but they can’t save their home villages from vanishing.”

The specifics of each of the 1,000 village developments would be tailored to the prevailing conditions for each location, but the overall project would be handled in association with Liang Shuming Rural Reconstruction Centre, Sun said.

The company specialised in rural reconstruction and had “plenty of expertise in encouraging young farmers to return to their home villages”, he said, without elaborating.

Slow Food Great China, meanwhile, will “integrate resources” for each project and be responsible for making and maintaining standards.

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One of the primary aims of the project was “to build a new rural development model that respects the environment … [and enables] a fair urban-rural relationship,” Sun said.

He said he wanted villages “to be connected to modern technologies” but not lose their heritage or links to “traditional methods and handicrafts”.

Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, said he was keen for Chinese people to absorb the organisation’s philosophy by slowing down their lifestyles.

“People should come to realise the importance of biodiversity and to accept the concept that the food you eat defines who you are,” he said.

He said he hoped people would “say goodbye to homogenised and industrialised food”.

Sun said that Slow Food Great China had already secured the support of the Dayi county government for the village development and was in talks with other local authorities and property developers on how the scheme might be rolled out.

The central theme of the conference in Sichuan was how people around the world could help to slow climate change by making informed choices about the food they eat every day. It urged people to eat locally produced and seasonal food, and to support small-scale farms, to reduce carbon emissions from transporting goods around the country and the globe.

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Paolo Di Croce, secretary general of Slow Food International, said China was crucial to the world’s food system and could play a decisive role in this global challenge.

“Unfortunately, in the past China has adopted a solution based on industrialisation and the use of chemicals, with widespread use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers,” he said.

“Considering the size of the country, its population and its economy, the environmental impact of this production system is heavy throughout the planet.”

As for getting the Slow Food message across to the Chinese public, Sun said it would take time.

“We don’t do high-profile campaigning because we think we can only do that once we have some proven projects,” he said.

People living on China’s mainland were sensitive to food safety issues, he said, but indifferent towards the environmental cost associated with things like carbon emissions from transporting goods.

“Foreign food imports are really popular among domestic consumers, so it’s hard to convince people to give them up,” he said.