An Indigo Industrial Ecology Paper
Creating systems solutions for sustainable development through industrial ecology

Developing Agricultural Eco-Industrial Parks in China
China's achievement | Elements of the Initiative  | Regional Alliances
 AEIP as Hub
| Chinese Ecological Agriculture | Rebuilding soil

An initiative to promote sustainable farming and food production as a means of reducing poverty in rural China


The International Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD, a US-based NGO active in China and other countries) and the Environmental Education Media Project for China (EEMPC) in Beijing are proposing an initiative to develop an Agro Eco-Industrial Park in an appropriate region of China. The purpose of this eco-park will be to provide a base for companies and service organizations to support the rural population in achieving a transition to fully sustainable and organic farming and to develop revenues above the poverty level. Indigo Development is supporting this initiative as a strategic partner applying industrial ecology and eco-industrial development.

We have generated interest in the initiative and willingness to make commitments of support from officials in several different regions of China, 1) Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province, and a Chishang Township, low income village in Zibo; 2) Xiuyan in central Liaoning Province; 3) Huangshi in Hubei Province; and 4) Hainandao in Southern China.

The park would be developed and operated as a public private partnership, including Chinese and international partners. It would be home to food processing and distribution companies, equipment manufacturers, energy generators and manufacturers using rural and urban biomass discards, an organic agriculture training and research center, and a demonstration farm.

Overseas companies in organic food processing and distribution and organic farming support industries would enjoy special incentives and assistance in entering this market in one of China’s most productive farming provinces.

The agro-eco-industrial park would provide a home base for food processing and value added production companies, marketing cooperatives, a sustainable agriculture training center, and a demonstration farm. Through this AEIP infrastructure, poor farmers would learn farming practices to improve the value of their output and gain marketing channels to domestic and international markets. Through the training and research programs the eco-industrial park would coordinate with regional watershed and land use management, ecological restoration, soil restoration, and economic development programs.

ICSD and EEMPC are seeking seed funding to cover the costs of evaluating the different possible locations to determine their feasibility for demonstrating poverty reduction through sustainable farming; recruiting critical private and public sector stakeholders; taking a small expert team to visit potential sites and conduct workshops with stakeholders, and assess overall feasibility of the Agro Eco-Industrial Park and the broader initiative. Seed funding would be a grant to the International Center for Sustainable Development, a 501(3)ctax-exempt organization registered in Maryland. The grant will be shared between ICSD and EEMPC.

China’s Foundation for a sustainable farming initiative

A significant minority of China’s farmers, several research institutes, and food processing companies are seeking to blend the best of traditional farming practices with appropriate modern technology to support sustainable farming.

  • Since the 1980s, the State Environmental Protection Agency has led development of Chinese Ecological Agriculture concepts and demonstration projects at village level. This program links the transition to organic farming with generation of bio-energy, value-added production, utilization of by-products, and village economic development. (See appendix for detail.)
  • The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements accredited China’s Organic Food Development Centre (OFDC) as the major domestic organic certification organization in 2002. This recognition provides a basis for developing reliable export markets.
  • The Ministry of Agriculture has created a Green Food program with food inspection as a component. A Green Food Association represents and supports processors and distributors.)
  • The world’s largest organic farming research project (in Yunnan province) almost doubled the yield of rice and virtually eliminated fungal plant disease and need for costly fungicide. (Youyong Zhu et al 2000)
  • Chinese Ecological Agriculture projects have demonstrated success in increasing productivity, improving soil quality and water systems, using water more efficiently, reducing or eliminating use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides, and diversifying village economies.
  • The Chinese government at national, provincial, and local levels is concerned for the viability of small to mid-scale farmers and farm villages. (The cities cannot absorb a large migration of failed farm families.
  • Water shortages on the North China Plain and "dry outs" of the Yellow River demand major increases in farm water conservation and practices for highly efficient water use and re-use. (Drought conditions have prevailed in this region over the last six years and there is increasing competition between urban/industrial and agriculture use of water.)
  • China’s growing energy crisis is demonstrated by shortages due to increasing oil prices and world competition for a constrained supply. Reduction of all petrochemical inputs to farming through sustainable farming is an important strategy for meeting this crisis.

The Elements of the Initiative

The International Center for Sustainable Development (a US-based NGO active in China) and the Environmental Education Media Project for China in Beijing are proposing an initiative to hasten the transition to sustainable, organic farming and to seize the export and domestic market opportunities now open. This initiative would go forward as a public private partnership drawing upon Chinese, North and South American, and European resources.

It will be critical to attract partners aligned with both the business success of the project and the social goal of preserving small to mid-scale farming as a viable part of the regional rural economy. Equally, appropriate partners will be those supporting the long-term ecological restoration of the agrarian environment. Fortunately, the Chinese Ecological Agriculture program mentioned above provides an indigenous approach that marries these three goals. It’s application will be supported by US and European best practices in food growing and processing and ecosystem restoration, as well as agroecology practices in developing countries.

The initiative will integrate these basic elements:
The AEIP itself:

  • An agriculturally-based eco-industrial park (AEIP) as home to food processing and distribution companies, equipment manufacturers, energy generators and manufacturers using rural and urban biomass discards. (See graphic at the end of this document showing the supply and demand linkages through the AEIP.)
  • An organic agriculture training and research center and a demonstration farm with vegetable, fruit, and medicinal herb cultivation at the site of the AEIP.
  • Recruitment of organic food processing companies from China, Europe and North America to joint venture with Chinese companies.
  • Development of business models for organic farming and food processing that help small to mid-size farmers remain financially viable producers.

AEIP regional interaction

  • Development of standards, training programs, and information channels that help the farmers to rapidly and efficiently implement new best management practices.
  • Coordination of research between organic and green food research centers in China, and centers in North America and Europe.
  • Implementation of Farming Best Management Training Programs to directly assist farmers in adopting the most advanced practices for ecosystem stabilization and soil building to increase the long term agricultural productivity of the soils and improve water holding capacity.
  • Coordination with watershed management programs to insure an adequate supply of unpolluted water for crops, to guide selection of crops appropriate to water supplies, and to plan nutrient management.
  • Nutrient management must avoid runoff from crop land and animal yards to waterways and contamination of ground water. A second important task is eliminating the risk of contamination of farm products from the use of "nightsoil" (human excrement) and animal manure.
  • Coordination of sustainable farming and eco-park development with regional ecological restoration planning, including restoration of soil quality, constructed wetlands for water treatment, and creation of micro-habitats along riparian corridors and surrounding vegetation.
  • Integration of sustainable farming and food processing with town and city programs to utilize energy, water, and material resources, including urban discards, efficiently.
  • Development of Provincial policies to support the initiative.

This is an ambitious initiative, taking an approach of regional rural and urban economic development integrated with restoration of major natural systems. Fortunately development of the eco-industrial park offers a business-based center for generating the other elements outlined above. It creates value through the real estate development process, which becomes a basis for attracting both private capital and public investment.

Overseas companies in organic food processing and distribution and organic farming support industries would enjoy special incentives and assistance in entering this market in t productive Chinese farming regions. Major markets such as the schools and hospitals, the hospitality industry, and airline and cruiseship companies would provide many bulk sales opportunities for such companies.

These markets will enable a sustainable balance between production for domestic consumption and production for export, with avoidance of long-distance transport whenever possible. A recent report on the nutritional status of children in China suggests that consumption of organic food through school programs could constitute a significant market and contribute to the health of young people.

Supply-demand linkages

This graphic shows the variety of producers and markets which would be linked by firms and organizations at the Agro Eco-Industrial Park. The certification and inspection authority now recognized internationally in China is the Organic Food Development Centre. It is independent of all other players and would certify both farm producers and processors and distributors at the AEIP. A complementary set of linkages would connect the AEIP into local  and regional ecological conservation and restoration programs.

Chinese Ecological Agriculture (Shengtai nongye)

Chinese Ecological Agriculture (CEA) is a village-based initiative for reducing the energy intensity and environmental impacts of farming, improving productivity, opening village economic development opportunities, and improving quality of life. The State Environmental Protection Agency has led implementation of the initiative for “a comprehensive agricultural production system which is managed intensively according to the principles of ecology and eco-economics.” (Sanders 2000, quoting a Chinese EPA document.) CEA indicates that there is a significant conceptual base that has been applied successfully for the agro-eco-industrial park.

The most successful CEA projects integrate traditional ecologically sensitive farming practices with rural community and economic development. Traditional practices include ones familiar to organic farmers in developed countries, such as:

  • crop rotation
  • inter-planting of crops and diversification
  • use of organic fertilizer and minimizing or eliminating use of pesticides
  • combining of crop farming, orchards, and animal husbandry
  • planting of trees
  • utilizing all farm and community by-products to capture resource value
  • working with fields and waterways to avoid soil erosion and conserve water
  • building of greenhouses for intensive growing throughout the year.

CEA villages have also developed;

  • bio-gas generation from manure and human nightsoil at household and village levels
  • use of solar water heating systems and photovoltaic energy
  •  “side-line: village industries including value-added food processing and non-farm related ventures
  • improvement of housing and community infrastructure.

Thus, the ideal of Chinese Ecological Agriculture is a holistic approach that integrates organic farming with village community and economic development. The best cases have achieved notable improvements in the health of the ecological base of farm land and water systems together with significant village economic development and better quality of life.

Rebuilding Soil Quality

Around the world farmers are facing a drastic reduction in the productive capacity of soils. Civilization depends on human stewardship of agricultural soils, however, the productivity and health of the soil system is deteriorating because of many interrelated forces. Therefore, rebuilding soil quality is a critical component of the AEIP strategy.

Recent research in China, published in the New Scientist , postulates that a large-scale shift from the production of rice and wheat to vegetables and fruit is having an extremely negative impact on soil productivity and causing a significant increase in pest and disease problems. A large-scale change from growing grain to fruit and vegetables has forced adoption of input-intensive agricultural techniques. The use of larger volumes of irrigation water rather than rainfall increases the deposition of salts in the soils.

The use of large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce large yields builds up residues that affect the health and productivity of subsequent crops. The increased air pollution from more and more coal-fired power plants is contributing to the acidification of the water cycle and soils.

The reduction in the productivity of soils in China coupled with the large-scale conversion of farmland for industrial development reduces the ability of China to be agriculturally self-sufficient. The greatest danger is that this swift destruction of the capacity of soils to produce healthy crops is happening worldwide. This means that replacing lost production with imported food stocks will get more expensive and more difficult every year as more nations become net consumers and cease food exports.

The Research Institute at the Agro Eco-Industrial Park will seek to build a sustainable supply of produce and meat by working to improve the health of agricultural soils, water sources and ecosystems in the whole province. It will work in alliance with the Nanjing Institute of Soil Science and local counterparts.
The implementation of a sustainable soil regeneration program based on organic cultivation practices is the best way to halt the destruction and begin the rebuilding of the productive capacity of the soils. This will need to be a holistic province-wide project starting with replanting the upper reaches of the Yellow River Watershed to stabilize soils, attract rainfall and slow down and store rains for long term release to the rivers.

The planting of forest farms of native and productive crops will begin to rebuild the forest ecosystem. The rapid adoption of organic and sustainable farming techniques will begin a process of biological improvement of the soils that will improve productivity, watershed health, financial returns and the movement to China’s food security.

The reduction of trace minerals and soil microorganisms is an issue that seriously cuts the nutritional value of farm products. This can be addressed by the addition of mined mineral supplements, the use of compost and other organic fertility components.

All of these strategies need to be implemented in the context of seeing the soil as a living ecosystem that is the foundation for the farm as a managed ecosystem. This process takes time, during which it is vitally important to end the process of damaging the quality of soils and paving them for development. The long- term stewards of the soil are the farmers who are the key to changing practices and who will benefit from the improved infrastructure the AEIP and its Research Institute and Demonstration Farm will bring to its participants.

Dealing with acidification of water and soil from power plants requires adoption of clean coal technologies and pollution treatment in the short term and a rapid transition to sustainable nontoxic energy production systems, as is encouraged by China’s new Renewable Energy Law. The production off sustainable energy using agricultural byproducts will be a key contribution of the AEIP system and will reduce the need for imported petroleum.

The future of the Province’s agricultural system will be that of a province wide organic cultivation system, coupled with conservation with best management practices supported by a diversified mix of crops that provides superior nutrition to Chinese markets and exports part of the production to a world eager for a broad selection of fresh and value added organic crops and meat products.


International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements

Richard Sanders. 2000. Prospects for Sustainable Development in the Chinese Countryside: The Political Economy of Chinese Ecological Agriculture, Ashgate Press, Aldershot UK.

Youyong Zhu, Hairu Chen, Jinghua Fan, Yunyue Wang, Yan Li, Jianbing Chen, JinXiang Fan, Shisheng Yang, Lingping Hu, Hei Leung, Tom W. Mew, Paul S. Teng, Zonghua Wang, Christopher C. Mundt. 2000. “Genetic diversity and disease control in rice,” Nature Volume 406 Number 6797 Page 718 - 722 (2000) 17 August 2000.

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