European agriculture through the eyes of young Chinese farmers

Benefiting from an EU-China project on capacity building for young professional farmers and agricultural professionals, a group of 12 young farmers from China came to Europe. Visiting Belgium, the United Kingdom and Estonia between 15 and 28 April 2018, the Chinese farmers and agricultural professionals had the chance to learn more about European agriculture.

Photo credit: European Commission

Launched in April 2017, the project aims to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the area of agriculture and rural development between the European Union and China, providing an opportunity for Europeans and Chinese farmers and agricultural professionals to see how they each rise to the challenges of their respective farming sectors. The exchange programme is funded through the service for foreign policy instruments.

What kind of farm do you work on? What is the farm size?
Shusheng Zhu: My family farm covers an area of 100 mu (around 6.6 ha), mainly used for greenhouses to grow grapes to develop leisure and sightseeing agriculture. We focus on new varieties, new technologies, new farmers and high efficiency. Scientific cultivation and ecological development are important for us, too. With this concept of cultivation and industry benefiting the people, we are deeply cultivating and planting to create the best grape-harvesting garden in the country.

Zilong Zou: It’s an organic farm, I grow mainly vegetables. It has 18 ha.

What impressed you most during your study visit to Europe and/or agriculture in Europe?
Shusheng Zhu: In Europe, the countryside follows the nature, preserving older buildings and achieving harmony between man and nature. This provides references for China’s new rural construction and rural revitalization and development.

Zilong Zou: Most of my images in Europe, whether producers, consumers, or policymakers, put "animal welfare, climate change, organic agriculture" and other topics in a more important position.

Would you like to highlight anything seen on a farm in one of the countries visited (Estonia, the UK and Belgium)?
Shusheng Zhu: The large machinery on farms in the United Kingdom and Belgium, such as tillers and sowing machines, are labour-saving, efficient, and fast, providing specimens for domestic cultivation in the field.

Zilong Zou: I think the most important thing to emphasise is in an organic farm in Belgium, not only is the production facilities very advanced, the technology is mature, but also the living conditions of farmers and hired workers are very good.

Did you learn something during your study visit in Europe, that you will implement back home on your farm in China? (For example: wines or organic farming)?
Shusheng Zhu: During my stay in Europe, I have seen mainly the development towards a modern agriculture and the trend of new rural construction. I regret not to have seen grape-related companies, but I met two friends of wine sales when we met during the exchange with other young farmers. We will see how we can possibly cooperate.

Zilong Zou: Learning in Europe is very rewarding. Not only did it strengthen my confidence to continue to engage in organic agriculture, but I also learned some technology about agriculture, and learned about some equipment that I could invest into, applying it then to production.

How did you learn about the EU-China programme? What was your main motivation to participate?
Shusheng Zhu: I have a friend in agriculture who participated in Sino-German cooperation projects. He has learned a lot. He has paid close attention to China's foreign cooperation projects under his proposal, and he has just met the China-Europe project. I participated in this project mainly to visit the European grape growing and wine production. Processing, learning production, operating procedures, understanding of related production equipment and how to conduct business cooperation with wineries in Europe, and promoting the exchange of learning between China and Europe.

Zilong Zou: Our local government introduced it to me and encouraged me to apply. I mainly wanted to have a look and learn about organic farming in the EU.

Why did you choose to become a farmer in the first place? Why did you decide to go for ecological and leisure agriculture, wine processing and sales?
Shusheng Zhu: Both my wife and I were born in rural areas and have a sense of agriculture. After we had saved a certain amount of money, we decided to invest in the existing grape industry in our hometown. The traditional planting methods needed an upgrade. We have taken the lead in developing efficient rain-fence cultivation and taking the lead in demonstration, driving the transformation and upgrading of the industry. Eco-leisure agriculture adapts to the development trend of urban agriculture and can increase the channels and economic benefits for grape sales. Wine production is mainly an extension of the industrial chain. The use of high-quality grapes for production provides the basic conditions for the development of industrial integration. Through the gradual development and processing of wine, there is more added-value and jobs created.

Zilong Zou: I love the people and life of the country. Secondly, I hope to play a leading role in encouraging more young people to join in organic farming like me.

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