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In China, Going Organic Is Nothing New

Sometimes, people find that the oldest ways may be the best.

Organic farm manager Guo Changjun is just one such person. He believes that returning to traditional cultivation methods can provide a better future for the agricultural industry, a better environment for future generations, and a guarantee of safety for the coming Beijing Olympic Games.

His organic farm, located near the Badaling section of the Great Wall, where the strong smell of manure is impossible to avoid, will supply 4,000 tons of vegetables to the Beijing Games.

"Organic farming is not a new thing in Chinese agriculture. We did it thousands of years ago and now we are just going back to the traditions with some modern technologies," said Guo.

During the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), Chinese farmers already used straw as a soil fertilizer. And peasants have always used organic fertilizers, such as manure, which are cheap and easy to get.

Only since the 1970s, when the artificial fertilizer industry began to develop in China, have more and more farmers shifted to chemicals which can help plants grow faster and bigger at lower costs.

But in recent years, the use of such chemicals has sparked many health and environmental concerns.

"When people's living standards increase, they pay more attention to their health and prefer to pay more for organic vegetables," Guo said.

"Now even farmers try to avoid eating vegetables grown with chemicals," he pointed out.

But returning to traditional methods comes at a cost. According to Guo, to maintain fertile soil and chemical-free planting, organic farms must invest four to five times more than others, meaning that the price of organic vegetables can be four or five times higher than regular ones.

"We do organic farming not just because we are going to provide quality vegetables for the Olympics. It is the future of agriculture."

Guo's farm started going organic about three years ago.

He said that the farm never uses any chemicals. It only uses organic fertilizers authorized by the government as well as manure, slurry, worm castings, peat, seaweed, guano, compost and bone meal.

As modern organic farming involves a lot of modern techniques, Guo's farm has invited experts from the Beijing Academy of Agricultural Sciences to run workshops for local farmers to help them develop organic planting skills.

At his farm, rather than using chemical pesticides, farmers use chrysanthemum extract, solar pest killer lamps and small sticky pieces of cardboard to exterminate pests.

"The Games organizers have very high standards," he said. "We have already assigned workers for each planting area, and you won't find any pesticides in any of our vegetables."

In one of his greenhouses, Guo picked some baby cucumbers from the field and ate them without washing.

"It's very clean, no chemicals," he said.

Recently, some Chinese media reported that in order to plant good quality vegetables, Olympic vegetable suppliers had turned to some rare methods, such as irrigating the soil with fermented soybean milk and using a mixture of milk, sugar and vinegar as fertilizer to make vegetables taste better and look more appealing.

"We did use soybean milk last year, but only once," Guo said. "It is very good to improve soil structure and nutrient density, but it is very expensive.

"As for the milk mixture, I know someone did that but I don't agree with it. It's not necessary."

(China Daily September 3, 2007)

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