Zhejiang develops biotech to produce greener crops
By Chen Ziqi
China Plus

Reporter: Chen Ziqi; narrated by Ken Smith

Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province of China, is renowned for its natural resort. [Photo: from VCG]

Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province of China, is renowned for its natural resort. (Photos: VCG)

Chang'an Town in Zhejiang province has been vigorously developing its bio-economy since 2014 by promoting its compost industry. Fruit peel and vegetable leaves, once considered waste, were usually thrown away along with other daily and kitchen garbage. But now, this waste's potential has been discovered and farmers have realised this is the perfect raw material for making fertilizer.

Li Weiqi is professor from the Faculty of Life Sciences at Zhejiang University. He says the adoption of composting in agriculture is a win-win move, providing healthier and safer agricultural crops and protecting the environment.

"Fruit and vegetable waste can pollute the environment, if it's simply mixed and dumped with other daily rubbish. But we can make good use of it. After a series of microbiological processes, it becomes organic fertilizer. Defective fruit that isn't yet rotten is even better material for producing the compost liquid because it contains a high percentage of organic acid and is useful to improve soil quality. It increases healthy plant growth."

[Photo: from VCG]

Campus of Zhejiang University

In recent years Zhejiang University has actively been spreading the advantages of composting to local villagers. Ni Qingfeng is the owner of Jiqing ranch in Chang'an Town. With support from Zhejiang University, she has learned how to make compost by brewing leaves and fruit peel.

Having seen the benefits of composting, Ni Qingfeng now collects up waste peel and leaves on a daily basis. She sorts them into various plastic bins and after three months, the composting process is done. Ni explains how it works.

"We have a list of materials needed to make compost. These are the ingredients: half a kilogram of brown sugar, one and a half kilogram of vegetable waste, five kilograms of water."

Fruit peels and vegetable leafs are perfect materials for making compost. [Photo: from VCG]

Fruit peels and vegetable leafs are perfect materials for making compost. 

The raw materials are all accessible, and the compost producing procedure is simple. She says the materials are all collected on her farm.

"All the materials are very easy to find. I have a Dragon fruit orchard, and each year I have to trim a lot of stems from the plant, to ensure the fruit can absorb enough nutrients from the root. It always used to be a headache when it came to dealing with stems since they took up so much room. Now, I cut the stems into small pieces and use them to make compost. Three months later, cumbersome stems have become compost, and I use them as fertilizer."

Composting can boost production and also help ensure the safety of crops, and also addresses the issue of rubbish dumping in rural areas.[Photo: from VCG]

Composting can boost production and also help ensure the safety of crops, and also addresses the issue of rubbish dumping in rural areas.

Compost is now playing a significant role in growing green and healthy agricultural crops, becasue it has replaced chemical sprays. Ni Qingfeng says composting means she successfully saves a third of her costs on fertilizers and pesticides.

"Compost is multifunctional. It is a great product for farmers, since it can sterilize and act as a pesticide. It boosts plant growth as well. Using compost, we can use less pesticide and fertilizer than we did before."

So along with the considerable decrease in the use of pesticide and insecticide, fruit and vegetable production and quality have improved. Ni has monitored the effects of composting with her own test.

"I conducted an experiment in 2015. I planted 50 pear trees. I sprayed the compost on the leaves and roots, without using any fertilizer, pesticide or herbicide. In the harvest season, I found the fruit quality was fantastic, but production had dropped a bit. If I continue using compost for three to five years, the effect will be better than the first year. Recently, I tested the iodine content in the soil. It had increased by 0.03 milligrams."

Ni Qingfeng explains that composts made with different ingredients have diverse functions.

"Compost made with vegetable leaves is sprayed on the body of plant. Compost made with fruit and radish helps the fruit grow bigger and improves the sweetness. I am still finding out how the different materials affect the functions of the compost."

To get the word out about composting, College of Life Sciences at Zhengjiang University set up a special composting laboratory on Ni Qingfeng's farm in March 2017. As well as carrying out in-depth scientific research, the lab is also open to the general public. Nowadays, Ni not only makes compost herself, she can also show off this new-emerging industry to visitors travelling from elsewhere to her region. Ni Qingfeng again.

"I have been working with Zhejiang University for about 4 years. Doctors from the College of Life Sciences taught us how to produce and use compost. They also give us technical support. From this year we've started producing solid compost, but we haven't started promoting that yet. Chang'an Town has developed as the first town of compost in the nation, and our village is the key composting base in the town. Now, villagers in our region are enthusiastically adopting composting in farming."

The compost industry has become an inseparable part of Chang'an villagers' lives. To begin with, to encourage more villagers to get involved in this field, professionals visited the town to explain the merits of composting. Once they understood the benefits, the villagers were trained in how to make compost, and now they habitually sort their kitchen garbage.The results of using the compost are greener agricultural crops and much better waste management. In the future, Chang'an town will employ composting principles in cleaning up its rivers and replenishing damaged soil, eventually transforming the town into an even better place to live in.