Note: China does not allow access to either Facebook or WordPress. If you’re reading this, that means we found a way to get the blog posted. However, pictures will have to wait until we get home. Sorry.
“You have come to the right place.” – Sean Stein, General of U.S. Consulate in Shenyang, China
After three days inside two of the world’s largest cities (Seoul and Beijing), by Day 4 of this 8-day journey, the Kansas Trade Delegation to Asia is ready to see some of the countryside.
Our journey Wednesday night by plane took us to the Liaoning Province in northeast China. It is a hub of agricultural, manufacturing and mining activity, with the city of Shenyang in the middle. With 9 million residents, Shenyang is the fourth largest city in China and is bustling, the fastest growing region in the nation. The last few years it has had 10-13% growth each year, compared to 7.5% elsewhere in China.
The Shenyang skyline is filled with tower cranes building massive skyscrapers. Hundreds of new apartment homes – 30 to 50 stories tall – can be seen. Roads are good. Many folks have expensive new cars, with Audi, Range Rover, Cadillac brands all around. And while that’s all good, there is a massive working class that doesn’t live so well. People pedal bicycles, dodging the cars, trucks and buses on highways in which road rules are few and far between. Shanty towns litter the region, often in the shadows of these massive apartment and business complexes. Tio this point, Shenyang has been slower to develop than much of China, but wealth and modernization are coming, and coming quickly.
Sean Stein, the American Consulate General based in Shenyang, says the Liaoning province is extremely productive in farm goods and mining, but not so whippy at processing these goods. Livestock farmers here, for example, truck animals 1,000 miles or more to slaughter and process. The province is desperately trying to build its processing infrastructure, develop more strategic relationships with technology and agronomic suppliers, and with plenty of cash on hand, is ready to do business with investors.
Over the last 10 years, yields of corn, sorghum and soybeans have increased dramatically. The agronomy program at the Lianoning Academy of Ag Sciences features world-renowned scientists who have done a tremendous job of boosting productivity. What the Chinese lack, however, is biotechnology in crops. Biotech crops, China reckons, are not yet proven to be safe.
Think about that for a moment. The country which has had numerous food safety issues – ink, melamine, bleach, dye and other toxic chemicals to name a few in recent years – is concerned about food safety, which is another way of saying, ‘we don’t possess the technology to grow GM foods, so we’re not going to do it.’
Tao Chengguang, president of the LAAS, and one of the nation’s most respected scientists, voiced his disapproval of the Chinese government’s stance on GM crops. In a briefing with our delegation, he declared his support for GMO crops, even promoting them to the Chinese government. “For the future, food production and a clean environment will rely on GMO crops.”
Several seed companies with U.S. ties have bases in China, and hope to provide information and assistance to help Chinese farmers take advantage of GM technology. That sounds good on the surface, but Chinese farms are small, depend on hand labor still, and are tremendously inefficient.
Tomorrow, we begin a two-day tour of livestock and crop farms. I’ll bet we learn a lot more about how technology can impact China’s farmers.