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在线翻译:
szdaily -> Opinion
Agricultural revolution awaits
    2017-May-30  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

Barry Wilson

barry@initiatives.com.hk

SO, everyone in China is being encouraged to leave the rural areas and seek their fame and fortune in the cities. Whilst we have become increasingly aware of some of the social stories around rural depopulation — children growing up with absent parents and ghost-like villages inhabited only by the elderly — there is a huge cost on the agricultural land itself losing its custodians. Whereas a rural population has food sources close at hand, feeding big cities increases the logistical problems of transport, time, space and waste. Changes are afoot.

China’s population eats a lot of food. The “miracle in China” feeds 22 percent of the world’s population with just 7 percent of the world’s arable land. How does it do it? Essentially through intensive farming methods using plenty of pesticides and insecticides. This is proving problematic as soil and ground water pollution is a significant ongoing issue and what’s more, people’s trust in food quality is at an all-time low after repeated food security scares.

As more farmers leave the countryside for the cities, and children choose to seek other more financially remunerating life choices, who will keep on farming?

Land is starting to become increasingly underutilized in rural areas at a time when more food is needed than ever, especially as some of the nation’s best agricultural land close to population centers is exchanged for development and city expansion. The Pearl River Delta has seen an extraordinary 13 percent of its cropland and 6 percent of grassland lost to development in the first dozen years of the current millennium.

The coming years will see pressing food security concerns and radical changes are going to need to be adopted. Food needs to be close to end users, this keeps down the costs of handling and transport, providing fresher, better-quality products and needs to be able to be grown without negatively impacting the environment. It seems clear that an agricultural revolution is coming, where food will be the latest product to undergo radical technological changes.

With renewable energy threatening to bring the costs of electricity close to zero, and LED lights providing wide spectrum lighting, intensive mass urban farming is now a viable proposition, whereby crops can be grown indoors in vertically stacked racks, hydroponically and under artificial lights. China currently has the world’s largest such vertical farming complex, located in Fujian on a 1-hectare site. These mass indoor production facilities can be located close to big population centers. They can also benefit from using exact and minimal inputs such as fertilizers; to grow crops in ultra-clean, safe, pest-free environments; providing much faster growth cycles; and allowing for carefully controlled reuse and discharge of water. In fact, every building could eventually have its own vertical farming facility, potentially utilizing roof space.

Whilst new-technology farming clearly offers economic, production, waste and logistical benefits, there is the question of what new problems might accompany these changes? For instance, how will the population react to purchasing and eating such food? Can we anticipate unforeseen long-term deficiencies in food grown without the natural inputs of the sun, soil or organisms? Might the consumption of pure, unadulterated food lead to the longer term issue of the body losing it’s natural immunity to basic threats?

In the coming shift to such practices, what might become of the more remote rural land, no longer economically viable for intensive farming? Will some of it return to its natural habitat, allowing native species to recolonize, soils to repair and groundwater to recharge. Could rural communities utilize it to generate better incomes through farming high-quality organic produce? Can rural populations find potential opportunities to stay on the land and manage it for future generations?

It seems that massive changes in food production will be necessary to feed future population expansion and that those responsible for its production will be at the heart of massive social shifts in the near decades to come.

(The author is an internationally qualified design and construction consultant, landscape architect, urbanist and university lecturer. His practice, Barry Wilson Project Initiatives, has been tackling urbanization issues in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland for over 20 years.)

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