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China diaries: Zhang Zhimin

Updated Wednesday, 5th January 2011

Zhang Zhimin owns an organic farm in Liangxiang, Beijing. She explains why chemical agriculture is very harmful to our ecology and our environment

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Hello, my name is Zhang Zhimin, I own an organic farm in Liangxiang, a suburb of Beijing.  I have run this farm for 10 years.

Can you remember what first triggered your interest in environmental issues?

It started in 1977, right after I graduated from high school, I went to the Summer Palace with my classmates.  I remember the sky was all yellow.  It was a bit windy.  And there was a very fine dust everywhere, on everything.  We couldn’t figure out what it was all about.  After some time, about 12 years ago, when I returned from abroad, I found out that whenever the weather of Beijing was windy, you could see sand all over the streets, not some earth, but literally sand.  We then learned a new expression “sand storm”.  At that time I realized the environment was badly polluted.  I also knew that our production process created some pollution.

After working for a chemical engineering import and export corporation, in 1985, I went to an oil and foodstuffs import and export corporation.  Back then, our products had received complaints by some of our foreign customers.  They said that they found pesticide residues in many of our products.  Then I realized that our products were actually polluted.  So from then on, I started to think that we need to care more about ecology and our environment.  

What are you working on/concerned by/motivated by at the moment?

After seeing so many environmental problems and food safety issues, I made up my mind to build an organic farm, on my own.  I not only produce organic food, but also spread some knowledge and experience on organic agriculture.  I have written several articles and I recently started a blog to share some articles.  More will come soon about the experience I have accumulated over the past 10 years.  In my opinion, compared with other pollution sources, pollutants from agriculture account for a big part.  Not only in China, but also in other countries, crop farming has many-sided effects on the environment.  Most of them are pretty bad.

Same thing with livestock breeding.  This mode of production we are using now is affecting our soil, water, air, and plants, and also affecting the health of both human beings and animals.  So chemical agriculture is very harmful to our ecology and our environment.  That’s why 10 years ago I began to devote all my time and money to running the organic farm.  

What do you anticipate working on and thinking about in relation to environmental issues over the next 1, 5, and 10 years?

I wish I could write down everything that I have learned through my ten years work in the organic farm, letting more people, more peasants, know how organic agriculture works.  We also try to sensitize consumers to organic agriculture.  

Are you an optimist or a pessimist as you look out to where we might be in 2020?

During the last hundred years, many things have originated from military technology.  For example, the food processing industry.  Same thing with agriculture.  Many things came from the military.  After a hundred year of development, we have betrayed our traditional farming patterns and betrayed our soil.  So the mistakes we made over the past hundred years cannot be solved in only 10 years.  Also, the recent capitalization of our economy makes the situation even worse.

So I think that it will be hard to solve the problems that have been accumulating.  But the next 10 years are a time for resolutions.  More and more people are aware that environmental protection is very important.  But I still do not think we can solve too many problems within 10 years.





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