The Business of Safe Food Production in China
Hong Kong and Changchun, China — 11 – 23 July 2016
In July 2016, twenty executives from nine different countries travelled to Changchun in China’s Jilin Province to conduct a field-project focused on community-based Natural Farming: a socially- and ecologically-sound alternative to industrial farming.
This project was the experiential component of Global Institute For Tomorrow (GIFT)'s flagship Global Leaders Programme (GLP). The GLP takes an experiential output-driven approach to executive learning by having global managers apply their leadership and problem-solving skills to produce business plans for local partner organizations. The programme exposes participants to the shifting socio-political and economic landscape across Asia and the need for new business models which can address the region’s most pressing challenges.
The Yunfeng Farming Cooperative was founded in 2009 to organise smallholder farmers in Guojia Village and scale up Natural Farming production whilst supporting sustainable rural development. Shijie Agricultural Technology Development Co. is a member and shareholder of Yunfeng and was first established to support the cooperative's operations.
Keiichi Nishijima, Orix
"Discussions and interactions with fellow participants encouraged the exchange of ideas and cross-cultural views which I found tremendously valuable. It was a truly rewarding experience."
Yifang Li, Greenpeace
"The GIFT programme provides the opportunity to hone leadership skills while working on a relevant, real world project. Working with a local farmers cooperative and partners in China, and a diverse team was a truly unique experience."
Shien Ing Choy, KWAP
"The GIFT programme is an eye-opening experience. Working in a culturally and professionally diverse team stressed the importance of empathy and effective communication."
Jilin Province in northeastern China sits on one of the world’s largest nutrient-rich black soil zones. It is an important national processing and production base for cereals and meat. While agriculture is still one of Jilin’s largest industries, the province also has important petroleum and chemical sectors and its capital Changchun—also known as "China's Detroit"—has a significant automobile industry.
Yunfeng Cooperative is located in Guojia Village, about 60km south of Changchun.
In 1953, Changchun was designated as a center for the automotive industry, making China's first domestically-produced cars (the "Hongqi") in 1958.
Jilin produces about 70 billion tonnes of corn annually, making it China’s largest granary.
Feeding a growing global population
In Changchun, participants were challenged to find a multi-faceted approach to food production—one that took into account ecological limits, produce quality, and rural livelihoods.
The world's population is expected to exceed 9.1 billion by 2050, putting massive strain on the global food supply chain. Yet modern industrial farming is raising concerns around pollution, food quality and ecological damage. The need for new approaches to agriculture is real and pressing.
Smallholder farming could be an opportunity for sustainable agriculture: China has approximately 230 million smallholder farming households in countless villages and small towns around the country.
A pioneer in Natural Farming
Participants worked with Yunfeng Farming Cooperative (“Yunfeng”) and Shijie Agricultural Technology Development Co (“Shijie”) to develop recommendations for creating a new national Natural Farming Alliance to revitalise the countryside and produce safe healthy food.
The Yunfeng Cooperative is a pioneer of Natural Farming. Their produce is high-quality and chemical-free—and thus can achieve higher profit margins.
Participants, as part of their intensive research, learned about the Natural Farming method. Crop and livestock production are integrated in a closed loop, creating a self-supporting, waste-free system.
Livestock are raised on fermentation beds made from locally-sourced materials, such as rice husks, sawdust, corn stalks and soil. Manure is digested directly into the fermentation bed, creating a zero-waste emission system with no odours—a major challenge yet to be solved by most industrial farming.
The cooperative started with a dozen members in 2009. It now comprises over three hundred members: two hundred producers and one hundred consumers.
Ms. Li Yunfeng (pictured above), the founder of Yunfeng Cooperative, is a diligent and conscientious self-taught famer. After seeing the environmental impact of industrial farming, she was driven to seek a more sustainable farming method.
Co-founder Mr. Li Shijie (pictured above) is an animal husbandry expert with over thirty years of experience working with smallholder farmers, and who has developed proprietary enzymes that strengthens animals immune and digestive systems.
Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) & Food Safety
Partitipants, through their work on the Changchun programme, gained unique insights into the frontiers of development, and were able to think critically about new business models.
The Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) is a core element of Yunfeng's business model. The PGS encourages interaction between producers, consumers and other players in the value chain. This open and mutually-supportive community ensures the supply of high quality food.
In 2015, Yunfeng began supporting a team of recent graduates, who wanted to develop new social, technical and management services to support the surrounding community. These graduates became the “Guixiang team.”
Participants visited the New Fangyuan feed processing company in Changchun, which processes feed for Yunfeng. The cooperative provides high-quality raw materials for the factory.
To develop its network of consumer members, Yunfeng partnered with the Jilin Real Estate Chamber of Commerce and their “BOYO Multi-generational Centres.” These promote organic produce and eco-tourism amongst residential communities.
Developing a Nationwide National Farming Alliance
On every GLP, participants work together to create a novel business plan for the project partner. At its core is an original business model that presents participants with a demanding conceptual challenge.
Participants proposed a new “Shihe Natural Farming Alliance" to promote Natural Farming to cooperatives and producers across China.
Through meetings with government, community and business leaders, and through frank and open discussions amongst themselves, participants learn to navigate conflicting and contradictory views to transform concepts and theories into realities on the ground.
The GLP uses real-world field projects to hone the practical skills needed to manage diverse teams in unfamiliar situations. Participants challenge business models to create new ideas to solve practical issues.
Participants recommended that the Natural Farming Alliance have three core areas of service:
In their recommendations, participants highlighted the importance of creating a trusted brand for the alliance based upon a unified system of production, management and marketing with PGS at its core.
The social impact of the Alliance is immense, not only for members but the community at large.
Presenting the business plan in Changchun
Participants presented their plan to over 160 people, including government officials, Yunfeng Cooperative’s members, agribusiness owners, professors and members of the media. The audience showed great interest in Natural Farming, and its ability to produce safe and healthy food and revitalise rural communities.