Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Information Technology (IT) has changed the face of the modern society with PCs, Laptops, Mobile Phones, Tablets and Electronic Game consoles dominating the day to day lives of people. Younger generation cannot conceive of a life without these gadgets and if the educational and knowledge frontiers are continuously being pushed further, thanks are due to IT enabled daily lives. The famous Nitendo games like Wi are so popular that they tend to be addictive. Exclusive telecasting channels, dedicated to kids are doing extremely well financially. But for the electronic media, most of the consumer oriented products would not have raised the volume of business as they are able to do to day. Of course on the bad side of the coin, one can cite the negative impact of advertising unhealthy foods or so called junk foods which are causing severe strains on the health of the consumer in the form of many diseases, fighting against which billions of dollars are spent. 

One of the most remarkable developments in the electronic field is the smart phones and PC tablets with a variety of functions and highly user friendly features. Practically all daily chores can be done to day through smart phones including family purchases through on-line offerings or from established super markets. Dining has become a new experience because of Tweeting and Facebook. Food industry is benefited immensely by developments like fast safety monitoring devices, quick time gene sequencing gadgets, automated analyzers, electronic sorters, automated process controls, radio frequency based labeling etc. Supply chain vis-a-vis food is getting increasingly shortened because of electronic monitoring and protection of food in transit and storage. If past developments are extrapolated it can be assumed that no human endeavor is going to be left untouched by the electronic revolution that is taking place at a furious pace.

Practically no kid living in the US will be unaware of the Wi games being marketed by the Nitendo entertainment company and through simulation kids are made to perform a variety of games which gives a feeling of being in the midst of the game as a participant. This concept was used by Japanese first to sensitize the urban folks to the logistics involved in production of food in the rural areas, situated far away from their dwellings. Japanese made RPG series offering Harvest Moon, a popular entertainment program, was a big success and there have been many such programs which followed it. They included Sunshine Farm, Happy Farmer, Happy Fishpond, Happy Pigfarm, Farm Ville, Farm town etc all offered for exposing the urban folks to various aspects of agriculture production mostly located in far away rural areas. They are basically farm management simulation programs, popular mostly in China and Taiwan. They allow players to cultivate different crops, sell them in the market, stealing some from the farms next to them and similar activities associated with real growing in the field. 

The cultivation related video games are so popular in the East Asian countries that according to some estimates more than two million players are spending at least 5 hours each day on these programs! Why is that the urbanites are attracted to such games is still a mystery. Probably the fact that many of them are ignorant of the history of foods they consume every day and the inquisitiveness to understand the same may be the driving force behind this unique phenomenon. While this is understandable in a country like Japan with limited land available for agriculture, China is a vast country with millions of acres of land under cultivation by many small farmers and a few miles drive from any city can take curious citizens to see for real the agricultural operations with their own eyes. Video games are mainly "time killers" with the players able to relax for some time from their boring routines and agriculture simulating games have the added advantage of gaining knowledge, albeit unconsciously.

Against such a back ground one of the entrepreneurs in China has married the reality to virtual reality by offering real time pig raising facilities with a provision for participation by urban folks through computers as well as actual visits. Chinese are the biggest eaters of pork and any venture associated with pigs can be expected to attract attention. Unlike conventional system of rearing pigs, the new venture has created a vast net work of small covered areas for housing pig families which can roam freely within the farm and each unit called a "Pig Villa" has comfortable living facilities which is thought to raise the quality of meat from these animals. One of the USPs of this model is that urbanites have an option to invest on one or more pigs, suitably identified by investing at the piglet stage and monitoring the growth through closed circuit television facilities. Considering the critical importance attached to food safety, the pigs are fed with vegetables only and therefore the growth period may get extended from 6 months in a conventional farm to 10 months in Pig Villas. The farm also provides slaughtering services to recover meat and deliver to the owners. 

According to the pioneers of Pig Villa the farm is ecologically sound with no foul smell emanating as the bed provided for the animal is based on a specially designed mixture containing some agricultural waste materials. The pig droppings seem to get fermented and release beneficial bacteria which breaks down the excreta into harmless products. This system also avoids administering antibiotics to the animals because of the safe environment of each villa, not allowing pathogens to proliferate and cause safety problems. In a country where food scandals and frauds are rampant, Chinese people are increasingly getting concerned regarding the quality and safety of foods they consume. Though the pig villa project is termed unrealistic and expensive, there is safe bet that the insatiable demand for pork will drive the industry to seek innovative technologies and systems to boost the quality further and premium quality cuts can fetch good prices from a population flush with money due to the economic boom in that country.

Why is that Chinese are so attached to pork? Probably the old civilization with more than 7000 years of history behind had zeroed in on pork as the easiest and fastest way of producing. It is no wonder that half the population of pigs in this world are raised in China, numbering over 500 million, almost half the human population in that country! Demand for pork which was a measly 8 million tons in 1978, has soared to more than 70 million tons to day! The present production of 50 million tons of pork is slightly more than50% of global production and Chinese per capita consumption is estimated to be a whopping 40 kg per year. Intelligent as they are Chinese are even outsmarting the Americans by large scale import of better breed piglets and farming technology from that country and using less costlier operating practices they are able to produce pork at much lower cost than their American counterparts..

Spread over several hundred hectares, the Suining farm where pigs are raised scientifically to protect them from health problems is reported to be  building about 600 so called villas with each one home for 10 pigs. in an area covered by large banyan trees to provide shade and control temperature. Each villa is supposed to cost around 8,000 yuan ($1,260).In each cottage, about 10 piglets are raised on floors covered with a black, powdery mixture of wheat bran, rice husks and sawdust which acts as a natural fermentation bed that releases beneficial bacteria, which can break down a pig's excreta. Usually the piglets nuzzle up to their mother in the cottage, while some time they can be seen running around the property freely. The project is part of a comprehensive development plan by local authorities to better utilize the old channels of the Yellow River. The disused channels encompass a vast area of up to 12,000 hectares that has been identified as an ideal location for agriculture and agriculture oriented tourism. It is hoped that a consumer, say sitting in Beijing, will be able to adopt a piglet for 4,000 to 5,000 yuan a year, nearly double the price of an adult live hog in the market and enjoy the "fruits of his labor" after 10 months without moving from his chair or soiling his hand!. 

1 comment:

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