Tag: China

I Had A Farm In Africa

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A few years ago, I came across a stand at the US Produce Marketing Association  (PMA) Convention which had me intrigued. “Land for Sale”, it said. “In Africa”, it said. I stopped and started to ask questions. The upshot of the conversation was that I was hearing for the first time about the Chinese ambitions relating to food security.

This week I came across two articles from different parts of the world which were touching upon the very topic. The first one, from the Bloomberg scribes, specifically discussed the Chinese strategy of acquiring land all over the globe and shipping the harvest or yield back to China. The most poignant statement in the article, “China has 21% of the world’s population, but just 9% of the arable land.” Clearly a call for action.

The second article, written by Professor Richard Archer from Massey University here in New Zealand is entitled ‘Predicting the food of the future’. It identifies population growth as the “biggest single driver” which will force humanity to change its attitude and processes related to food production – and not just in China. Archer’s focus is clearly on the opportunities this situation will create for the New Zealand food export industry, predicting that more food will be sold processed in future, albeit that “processing will be gentler with fewer ingredients” and that “more plant protein will be used to stimulate the meats we love but with meat used to round out nutrition and provide flavour.”

And last week, the New Zealand Parliament finally passed the proposed Food Bill, which aims to provide a regulatory Food Safety related framework for the wider industry.

Should we have food on our minds then? Sure should.

For me, the issue is greater than food though. Economics come into it big way. I have the Fresh Facts brochure for 2013 on my desk, where the New Zealand horticultural industry annually publishes its vital statistics. In his introduction, Plant & Food Research CEO Peter Landon-Lane writes, “The horticulture industry continues to play a vital role in New Zealand’s economic growth. Total horticultural produce value is now appr. $6.7 billion and horticultural exports account now for 8% of total merchandise exports.”

Landon-Lane goes on to say, “Asia is a key player in this growing market, taking 32% of exports…”

I paused to think about what I had read at this stage. And as is so often the case with me, I then came up with some questions rather than answers. Questions like:

  1. If China, or India for that matter,  go around buying agricultural production capacity all over the world to feed their people, who will feed the people in the countries whose land those two nations  are growing their food in?
  2. Whose economic growth is it if China buys dairy farms here, uses Chinese owned dairy factories to turn the milk into milk powder and ships the finished product to Chinese retailers?
  3. Can we actually believe GDP data and the like produced by the Reserve Bank and others because ‘our’ economic output is no longer purely ‘ours’?
  4. What is the future meaning of ‘our’?

Please do not get me wrong. This is not about China. New Zealand is a nation dependent upon migration of both people and investment.  I am an immigrant myself  and Chinese people and Chinese money are, from my perspective, very welcome here.

But if the ‘new normal’ is that people rich, land poor and liquid countries wander off and buy production in other sovereign nations at the rate China currently does, we will surely have to revisit how we measure our economic performance as a country. The sales dollars generated through the product being ‘pulled’ from our lands by specific markets through a wholly owned supply chain that operates parallel to our national and natural efforts to export similar products can no longer be considered to be the ‘fruits of our labour’.  Rather, they are the fruits of someone else’s labour, using New Zealand land as a platform for success.

And no – I do not want to get involved in land ownership rights or disputes either. It seems to me though that in our age of globalisation, digitalisation and sustainability, where just about everything and everyone is open to challenge, we may need to consider how we measure economic success, progress and prosperity in future, as the days when there was a simple solution for every issue seem to be long gone.

A whole new challenge for supply and value chain management and comprehension  as we know it. Time to re-jig how we measure things and one more reason not to believe every data set produced by Treasury me thinks.

Another Step on the Wall

The Great Wall of China

And no – I did not like my picture being taken but at least it proves I have been there!

It is said that the Chinese Wall can be seen from the moon.  Unfortunately, the claim is actually a myth – but even so, the Wall is a very significant structure.

Three factors  amazed me about the Wall.  Firstly, the crowds.  We were there at 8am and so were thousands of Chinese – from all parts of the country according to my guide.  Secondly, the pride & respect.  The Cultural Revolution of the sixties clearly dealt to some parts of the country but even Mao appeared to have some respect for the handiwork of the old emperors who went before him.  And today’s Chinese citizens are very proud about the Wall and what it represents.  Thirdly, the scale.  Without cranes, without engines, without any aspect of the modern technology we take for granted, the Chinese created something they deemed was necessary and it became a legacy.

Walls do not have to be physical manifestations to be effective – the use of phytosanitary regulations as a barrier to control imports is one example that comes to mind.

But that’s a whole other blog post for another day.

In a Chinese Supermarket – Part 1

CHINESE GROWN BANANAS

Bananas pop up the world over.

Pictured here are locally grown Chinese ones.  The red tape prevents the customer from splitting the hands to suit themselves, leaving those single bananas that are the bane of a Produce Manager’s life.

I did not wait around to see if the display would be replenished as it needed to be…

Behind the bananas was this “bin” of nectarines.

NECTARINES

I was intrigued to note the wide size range and the presence of foliage.  This suggests to me mechanical harvesting and minimal grading.

One could also say the condition of the leaves is an indicator of the freshness of the fruit.

LOCALLY GROWN APPLES

These apples are a local variety – quite a pretty pink en masse like this.

To put things into perspective, that price equates to 87 NZ cents!  Overall, I found China to be relatively cheap.

Moving on, the deli counters were right next door to the produce department:

TURTLES

FROGS

No, I have not strayed into the pet store.  Yes, those are live turtles and frogs.  How else could you be sure that they were fresh?

BULK PULSES AND SPICES

The bulk foods area was also near the produce and displayed in a fashion far more open than I am used to seeing back in NZ supermarkets.

Then I went past the shellfish counter…

SHELLFISH COUNTER

SMALL CRAYFISH

Being kept waiting at the checkout can be the last straw for a busy shopper.

CONTROLLING CHECKOUT WAITING TIMES

This blue line is the solution:  if there are customers behind this line of blue tiles, then more checkouts are opened – immediately.

Now, here is something I often say should still be seen in NZ supermarkets: the fresh produce weigh station.

PRODUCE WEIGH STATION

Discerning shoppers the world over choose their fruit by look and feel.

WHICH ONE FEELS THE BEST?

 This also could be any supermarket in the world:

NEAT AND TIDY PRODUCE DISPLAY

FRESH GREENS IN VOLUME

Signage varies around the store and I noticed that some nutritional information is starting to appear.

China Has Plans. Big Plans!

Mention the concepts of ‘threat’ and ‘opportunity’ to anyone remotely connected with produce industry strategy in this country and China gets a mention.  Both Chinas actually.  Whilst Potatoes New Zealand is busy trying to figure out how to optimise its fledgling export relationship with Taiwan and Summerfruit New Zealand is keen to export more cherries into that part of the world,  the rest of the industry is looking with mixed feelings at Mainland China.  How much of a threat will they be to our domestic industry?  Are we really about to be flooded with Chinese imports?  China is already the largest apple producer in the world.  Will we stand a chance in the international markets once China gets serious about apple exports?  And what about all this counterfeit Zespri kiwifruit which can be found in China with monotonous regularity?

Do I have any answers here?  Of course, not! But may I suggest that in order to understand China better, we need to spend a bit of time on critical evaluation – and that involves learning about Chinese mindsets and strategies.  This article about the Chinese commodities strategy in Africa entitled “The Next Empire”   is a good place to start.  I would pay particular attention to the section about Mozambique allowing 3,000 Chinese settlers in to buy and farm the land.

The article provides a wider historic perspective and is certainly not solely focused on horticulture – but neither are the Chinese.