One man’s utopia – a Chinese farmer gives back to nature

By Xinhua

Beijing : Farming without chemical fertiliser, pesticides, machinery or plastic membranes may indeed seem old fashioned or unenlightened to many people in an era when so-called modern agriculture has spread to nearly every remote corner of China.

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But at a time when there are worries about food safety and environmental pollution, a Chinese farmer is showing the world there is a healthier choice that is much more environment friendly. “Life Week” has featured just that in an inspiring story about An Jinlei.

An, in his 30s, lives in Dongzilong village in Hengshui district of China’s Hebei province, barely 100 km from here, the country’s capital. Ever since his wife and he contracted some 3.4 hectares of land, they decided to discard modern farming methods that may harm the earth and their produce.

At first, fellow villagers thought the couple were strange and stupid. For sometime now, farmers had been used to ploughing machines each spring that crushed and buried last season’s plastic membrane in the soil.

“In 10 years’ time, the plastics in the soil would be one centimetre thick. You still call that farmland?” An said. What he fought against was in fact an effective method that has been widely employed in China’s rural areas to raise farming output.

Compared with his fellow villagers, An spends more time, effort and labour on his land. When farmers stay at home enjoying an easy winter, An still works on the soil with a shovel and pickaxe to prepare for the coming spring planting.

He is proud of his products that are all organic. “With pesticide, crops may survive insects. But when all insects die, the natural system in the soil is dead too.” An preferred earthworms to herbicide to scarify the soil.

He said everyone knew that grain and vegetables grown on chemical fertiliser didn’t have good taste. But the old generation, whose heart still fluttered with the fear of famine, only wanted high food yields. For this, chemical fertilizer provided the best guarantee.

In his first few harvests, An did not get high yields. A few years later, however, his crops began to beat his neighbours. “It’s because the vitality of the soil had recovered.”

While his maize cobs were smaller than others, the seed was of a much higher quality; the fibre of his cotton was also much longer.

“Our land belongs to nature, it is not supposed to serve us only,” he said, believing that all forms of life should have the right to live on the land.

An has a bad impression of urban life, with “food grown from chemical fertilizer and pesticide, and the noise at night”. For this reason, he has refused most of the frequent invitations he has received from organisations that promoted organic agriculture.

But he is not short of city friends, many of who come and live with the couple for a period of time. Some say they want to experience pastoral lives, some say they just want to flee the pressure of urban life. Whatever their purpose, they all loved the food from An’s land.

An has a Utopia in his head that he vividly described. “If only there were no factories and everyone worked on his own piece of land, our life would be healthy, our earth would be healthy.”

He knows that he alone cannot change society – he has not even been able to influence people at his surroundings. “At first I wanted to be a pioneer and hoped people would follow my practice. But later on, I found it’s impossible,” he said.

“They want high yield but do not want to work hard. They continue to rely on chemical fertiliser and pesticide.”

An has received many visiting groups who promote environmental protection. At first he thought they were right by urging people to use less resources and protect the environment. Soon he developed disgust for them just because “they fly here and there in planes. It’s a waste of resources in itself”.

He too had flown once, to Thailand for a discussion with a local farming association. However, he vowed he would never fly again. “I was greatly depressed in the plane,” he said.