Farming better, not only for the economy

If improving agriculture is not only an ineluctable but manageable choice for the United States, for China it is a dramatic necessity. The difference in productivity between the two regions is enormous and lacking any substantial advancements over time. Beijing left its immense expanses in second place with respect to the attention dedicated to industry, business, and infrastructure. The countryside has been the arsenal of labor for the huge city factories. A migration of biblical proportions supplied the muscle for the limitless industrial concentrations in the big cities. The countryside was depleted of young farmers and offers a decidedly lower quality of life with respect to the metropolises today. The phenomenon was marked by an unequivocal piece of data: for several years, and for the first time in the country’s history, the urban population has exceeded the agricultural population. One of the most important political reforms was conceded to farming families: the end of collectivism and therefore the Maoist popular communes. Now, families are proprietors of their land and, more importantly, they can sell their goods at market prices. In any case, backwards practices were defeated. Impressive data synthesizes this: 33.6% of the workforce is employed in agriculture, which only contributes to 9.7% of the GDP. These numbers outline the picture of a developing country, far from modern China. They underline the poor mechanization of agriculture, the absence of reasoned distribution, and the poor harmony with the processing industry. Today, ¼ of all non-consumed products are discarded. Essentially, agriculture was neglected because it guaranteed survival and especially because bigger profits were achievable in other sectors like industry, real estate, and commerce. This situation cannot persist, especially in a country as traditionally agrarian as China. The population’s needs are growing, and higher wages demand healthier and more caloric diets; farms need land and irrigation conducted according to scientific principles. At the same time, demand for quality food is high, grown organically and without chemical additives that are frequently reported on in China’s crime news. Until now, the government has adopted a mixed strategy. It tried to improve yields and distribution, going as far as to impose new, more severe legislation for security. Imports of quality foodstuffs has increased; the economies of small agricultural countries like New Zealand and Uruguay depend on Chinese demand, and Argentina was able to survive the crisis in 2002 via massive grain and soy sales to China. An internationally more controversial decision was the 10-year leasing of land in foreign countries (land grabbing), left to Chinese management rather than abandon. All of these solutions are effective but insufficient, and can soothe the severity of the problem but not solve it. Beijing needs to find the courage and resources to improve its assets in a sector to which it owes its civility. It would be an appropriate decision, imposed by equilibrium. It would demonstrate coherence with the “new normal” in China that has taught us that its development was not based on equilibrium but on the striking suffering of certain strata of its population in favor of others.