Nine young European farmers visited China from 6-17 November 2017, the first to benefit from an EU-China project on capacity building for young professional farmers and agricultural professionals.
The project was launched on 21 April 2017 and aims to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the area of agriculture and rural development between the European Union and China, providing an opportunity for young farmers and agricultural professionals from both sides see how they each rise to the challenges of their respective farming sectors. In spring 2018, Chinese farmers are expected to visit the European Union.
During almost two weeks in Beijing and the southern province of Guangdong, the young farmers learnt more about Chinese agriculture, visiting farms and demonstration centres thanks to a programme set up by the Chinese authorities. Monika (32), an organic strawberry and crop farmer from Poland, and Colm (26), a milk and dairy farmer from Ireland, share their experiences:
How did you learn about the EU-China programme? What was your main motivation to participate?
Monika: I learned about the programme from the European Commission's website for agriculture and rural development. My main motivation was to learn about Chinese agriculture and see what the fruit, vegetable and crop production looks like there.
Colm: The young farmer association in Ireland sends out a newsletter, including a section on ‘travel opportunities’. I'll pay always attention to that section, as I enjoy visiting farms in other countries, learning more about international agriculture. We do also a bit of agritourism on our farm, so I'll have international guests visiting and I wanted to seize the opportunity to visit China thanks to the EU-China exchange programme. This would have been difficult to do on my own.
What impressed you the most during your study visit?
Monika: I was impressed by the state-of-the art demonstration and research centers, dairy and pig farms, tea, mango and dragon fruit plantations and food processing companies we visited. All of them are equipped with modern technology, the staff are trained in China and abroad and they all see a huge potential of growth ahead of them.
Also, it seems that the trends that we observe in the EU in recent years such as e-commerce of agricultural goods, community-supported agriculture, organic production, geographical indications (GI), produce traceability and so on are equally important and widely discussed in China.
Colm: I was most struck by the speed of development in China. The economic and technological development is impressive, and this pace of development in China will remain in the future – with a population three times more than in Europe. Also the size of farms is bigger – we heard that on average a Chinese farm is 1 mu which is about 1/15 of a hectare, but most of the farms we visited were a lot bigger, up to 60 to 100 hectares. And there are even tea plantations that have 1 000 hectares or more!
But apart from visiting China, it was great meeting other European farmers from various businesses, such as fruits and vegetables – so I could directly talk to a Greek, Italian or Estonian farmer about their challenges. And we still keep in contact, exchanging messages and photos in social media: this morning I just saw a photo with snow in Bulgaria!
Did you learn something that you could implement on your farm? What exactly?
Monika: We had a chance to visit the greenhouses and polytunnels where consumers are invited to come and pick their own strawberries in one of the demonstration centers. I have read about this farm-to-table strategy before, but it was the first time I have seen it working and was able to ask questions to the person in charge about the advantages and disadvantages of it. I’d like to implement this concept on my farm in the future.
Colm: Seeing the pace of technological development in China, I would like to focus more on implementing new technologies on my farm, to remain competitive.
Last, but not least: why did you choose to become a farmer?
Monika: I come from a farming family for at least four generations, probably more! But getting info farming was not so obvious. I graduated in Tourism and International Business. After six years of experience in these fields in Poland and abroad, I decided to use my expertise on the family farm and run my own business together with my parents.
Colm: I want to be the architect of my own destiny. I like working on my own account and not as an employee, having the freedom to take my own decisions such as investing or not. I also like to work outside and with animals. My parents showed me some other work possibilities, but I decided to continue our family tradition – in the fourth generation of farmers.
4 December 2017