The Chinese agricultural market is being influenced by two very separate factors, a sharp drop in banana prices and soaring pork prices. While the former may be avoidable, the latter could also be avoided if only Chinese farmers could get better access to market information.
Xuwen County in Guangdong Province, considered China's top banana production county, saw a rich banana harvest this year. However, the flat procurement price of banana is only 0.06 yuan per kilogram, the lowest to date, coming as a crippling blow to farmers. Much of their produce is left to rot in warehouses or fed to livestock to dampen losses.
Since this March, preposterous rumors have spread about a type of "banana cancer" or that bananas could transmit severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus. While these have no basis in fact, they have affected banana sales and since supply now far exceeds demand, prices have plummeted.
Contrary to the banana crisis, the price of pork skyrocketed through April and May, worrying swathes of the general public. This comes only a year after pig farmers sold their livestock en masse to ward off losses from poor sales margins. Had they had access to market previsions, this panic-selling could have been avoided.
Analyzing these totally opposite market phenomena, we can see that market plays a leading role in these dramas and Chinese farmers still cannot access to timely and accurate information that can help deal with the ever-changing market.
When the "banana cancer" controversy surfaced, there was little banana farmers could do to thwart it. However, due to pork prices soaring, porcine herds are being expanded across the nation. However, experts are mindful that many farmers are oblivious to the fact that in the future, excessive demand may lead to another downturn.
Can this expert advice reach those who need it the most? A farmer from Shandong Province thinks not, blaming the media: "As a matter of fact, I subscribe to two newspapers. But the messages in them are neither detailed nor clear. Besides the newspapers are usually delivered to me several days after they are published."
However certain statistics reveal that 97 percent of regional and 80 percent of county agricultural departments have established information management and service sections. In all, 180,000 people nationwide have been tasked with supplying information to farmers. However, quality is the key, not quantity.
For example, many agricultural websites exist as information centers, but since they are poorly updated, they are of little use. Crucially, the Chinese agricultural information network, despite being so played up by central authorities, is ineffective since it has no way of reaching individual rural households. Furthermore, the information is online and beyond the access of most Chinese farmers.
To sum up, Chinese farmers are in dire need of accurate market information and the government must ensure each farmer must have access to it.
(China.org.cn by Pang Li, June 14, 2007)