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Modern farming: Coronavirus outbreak spurs high-tech greenhouse boom in China

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SHANGHAI — At Chongming Island simply outdoors Shanghai, China’s most populous metropolis, staff accumulate and pack tomatoes and cucumbers at a glass greenhouse operated by Dutch firm FoodVentures, which harvested their first batch of produce on the website in Might.

The power is certainly one of dozens sprouting up on the outskirts of China’s megacities that make the most of high-end know-how to handle irrigation, temperature and lighting programs to develop greens inside simple attain of a giant and prosperous client base.

“There’s a development in direction of extra sustainable {and professional} provide,” mentioned FoodVentures director Dirk Aleven.

“We’ve seen an enormous acceleration since (the) coronavirus, it’s much more necessary now that recent produce is produced on the spot the place it’s consumed. Earlier than that, they had been transported for hundreds of kilometers, even throughout the borders of China.”

By far the world’s largest vegetable producer, China has used greenhouses for many years, however meals provide disruptions sparked by coronavirus lockdowns in 2020 have accelerated the event of high-tech glass greenhouse services.

To keep away from future disruptions, municipal governments have mentioned they goal to construct up reserves of essential staples, and develop distribution and logistics services.


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A rising prosperous center class, prepared to pay extra for larger high quality meals produced with much less pesticides, can be fueling the development, mentioned greenhouse builders.

The world used for glass greenhouses grew 28% in 2020, effectively above the 5.9% rise seen in 2019, and quicker than the 6% progress seen final yr in areas housing cheaper plastic greenhouses, in response to consultancy Richland Sources.

Plastic greenhouses assist defend crops, however are thought of much less environment friendly than glass greenhouses. The latter can churn out prime quality produce that’s bought on to retailers, decreasing reliance on conventional provide chains.

“We see an irreversible development because the pandemic in shoppers shopping for extra of their groceries on-line, and spending extra on more healthy decisions and agricultural manufacturers they belief,” mentioned Lim Xin Yi, govt director of sustainability at Pinduoduo, China’s largest e-commerce platform by customers.


Traditionally, China’s vegetable manufacturing was concentrated in sure areas and required advanced chilly chain logistics networks for meals to achieve main cities’ wholesale markets.

The vulnerability of that hub-centric system turned obvious in 2020. COVID-19 outbreaks at a seafood market in Wuhan – floor zero for China’s coronavirus pandemic – and at a serious recent market in Beijing induced a breakdown within the movement of products to shoppers, resulting in meals scarcity and crop spoilage.

“The pandemic has pushed the recent meals trade to scale back the variety of intermediaries in its provide chain community,” mentioned Gayathree Ganesan, an analyst on the Economist Intelligence Unit.


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Constructed inside metropolis limits to scale back distance to consumers, the greenhouses are often collaborative ventures between Chinese language property corporations and greenhouse corporations from the Netherlands, a key participant in agriculture know-how.

FoodVentures’ greenhouse outdoors Shanghai is a typical instance.

Over three soccer fields lengthy and two tales excessive, one of many facility’s items nurtures uniform rows of cherry tomato crops that snake up in direction of the ceiling. It’s able to producing as much as 120 tonnes a month of cherry tomatoes.

“Being wholesome is already a primary safety towards any virus, so folks care much more about what they eat,” mentioned Aleven. “Secondly, … we need to eliminate the lengthy logistics as a result of we aren’t certain if it all the time works and that’s what we’ve seen throughout this pandemic.”

“Localizing it as a lot as doable is the one reply,” he added.

Greenshouse-grown produce is often bought on to e-commerce platforms and supermarkets, bypassing the numerous middlemen and wholesale markets which might be a conventional characteristic of China’s vegetable provide chain.

Carrefour China, which is 80% owned by Chinese language retail big Suning, mentioned its cooperation with greenhouses round cities has grown steadily up to now two years to fulfill client demand.


Additional progress in key cities is probably going, with a current authorities doc displaying Beijing goals to greater than double its “high-efficiency facility agriculture land” to over 300 hectares by 2025.


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That progress might additional cement China’s standing as prime vegetable producer. The nation already accounts for 75% or extra of world output of cucumbers, inexperienced beans, spinach and asparagus.

Xu Dan, CEO of greenhouse operator Beijing HortiPolaris, mentioned his enterprise benefited final yr when a second coronavirus wave hit Beijing in June, shutting down a serious wholesale market and driving his day by day orders up 300%.

“(At the moment) supermarkets had been searching for growers with the power to ship inside 24 hours and so they had no time to seek for new suppliers,” he mentioned.

However Xu mentioned China might face some obstacles because it leaps into trendy farming.

“The largest challenges are folks, individuals who have the information to handle greenhouses to provide high quality greens,” he mentioned.

“Most farmers are getting outdated and their method of manufacturing additionally outdated, changing such (a) large quantity of farmers is known as a large problem.”

(Reporting by Emily Chow in Shanghai, extra reporting by Sophie Yu and Dominique Patton in Beijing and Beijing newsroom; Enhancing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)


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In-depth reporting on the innovation economic system from The Logic, delivered to you in partnership with the Monetary Publish.


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