Lee's Travels: Agriculture in China

Hey AWS,

I hope things are going well over there on the other side of the world. They're pretty exciting here in the far west of Inner Mongolia in Alxa. Dr. Michael Zhang and Viola Li have orchestrated an amazing itinerary for us and have been terrific guides since we began in Beijing. I couldn't have asked for better people to hear from or a better way to get a good hard look at China and what they're doing with water.

Today we visited some agricultural sites, including a dairy farm, to get an idea of how China produces food and that relationship to water. There aren't many of these in China, but this one gave us a general idea of how things are done here. In the US, it is very typical that hormones are used to get the cows to produce more milk. In China, it seems like they've never heard of such a thing and that hormones are something not used very often at all to help animals produce more. In the US, we have to often go out of our way to find milk that was made without the use of hormones. The cows in the US are also typically fed corn grain as the primary food.

I've included some pictures of what the cows eat here and this is typical of dairy production in China. The above photo shows a mixture of corn, millet and wheat husks.

Added to this is a grain mixture of corn, millet and sesame seed. This variety provides the cow and the milk with the essential omega 3, 6 and 9 amino acids that is lacking in most US milk. Also, none of the cows here have "fistulates." A "fistualte" is a surgically placed rubber plug on the side of a cow allowing for a human hand to reach into the cows stomach to move food to other parts of the cow to help it digest. This is only needed when cows have a poor diet such as a corn only diet, such is the case more often than not in the US. No fistulates here in China.

Another interesting thing is that families will own a cow or two and a truck will come by to pick up the milk produced by that cow. In return, the families get money and then that truck full of milk will go to a central location for milk processing and distribution. I asked about pasteurization, but wasn't able to get a straight answer. It is very difficult to communicate with such a language barrier, but we're still getting a lot of information.

Also check out this picture to see the traditional "flooding" method of watering.  I mentioned this in my previous entry, but I wanted to go into more detail.  Using this method, water is diverted to the field via aqueduct and then floods the field to water the crops. This is taking place on the left side of this picture. On the right side the water is pushed into drip tubes which are covered in plastic. This keeps the water from evaporating and keeps it in the soil near the plants. As a result, the plants are bigger and 50% less water is used.

One of the biggest differences between our county and China is a fact that I learned before embarking on this adventure. That fact is that 39% of China's labor force is associated with agriculture and food production while less than 2% of the US labor force is dedicated to agriculture and food production. In the US, we've been able to make food production very efficient, but as a result, the quality of our food has been affected. China has a program called the "New Villages" Program which helps agricultural villages become modernized. I think this is a very nice idea but needs to be monitored closely so that food quality doesn't go the way of the US. I think China can learn from our mistakes as they develop food production efficiency. I look forward to sharing this at our symposium in Shanghai.

Signing off,
June 17, 2010

I've also sent a picture of a camel because I thought it was funny looking. I'm sure the camel thought I was funny looking, too. There are wild ones here as well as ones domesticated for travel purposes.


Lee's Travels: Agriculture in China | anacostiaws.org

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Lee's Travels: Agriculture in China | anacostiaws.org

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