Plowing the fields of Songjiang is not what it used to be

Li Chunfeng was born into a farmers' family in 1979. For him, the greatest change China's reform and opening-up has brought is the transformation of local farmers' lives.

Li Chunfeng harvesting rice at his farm.

Personal profile

Li Chunfeng, a Shanghainese living in Songjiang District, was born into a farmers' family in July 1979. For him, the greatest change China's reform and opening-up has brought is the transformation local farmers have undergone in their work and life.

After he took over the family farm from his father in 2012, he was elected as a deputy to the Shanghai People's Congress and won some awards for his contributions. He was also sent to Germany and France as a representative of the farmers' group in Shanghai to learn how farms are managed in other parts of the world.

Now Li and his wife are working on their 28 hectares of land, and their goal is to expand to 33 hectares. He said that nowadays being a farmer is a decent job, and he hopes more young people will continue to join the profession.

Li Chunfeng working on his farm.

My story

My name is Li Chunfeng and I'm 39 years old. Born in 1979, I'm almost a contemporary of China's reform and opening-up.

I used to work in factories before I decided to be a farmer. During my years of farming, I was elected as a deputy to the Shanghai People's Congress and won the title of one of the top ten farmers in China, which would have been hard to imagine before.

The reform and opening-up policy has greatly changed my life. I'm a native of Songjiang District. Taking Yaojing Village — where I grew up — as an example, the living environment has improved a lot from what it was before. When I was young, all the roads in our village were unsurfaced. But now we have highways and there is greenery between the village lanes. But for me, the most direct change is the things happening for farmers in their work and life.

When I was 12 or 13 years old, each countryside household had a farmland of 0.3 to 0.4 hectares. My parents are both farmers and were working very hard on their land at the time. In 1994, my father bought a tractor and, about a decade later, he bought a harvester, which opened an era of mechanization for my family.

Although I'm the child of farmers, I didn't choose to be a farmer at the very beginning. After graduating from middle school, I entered a technical school in search of a good job, majoring in machinery and electronics. I worked in hardware and foundry industries for nearly a decade after my graduation and never imagined that I would return to the village for farming at that time.

In the past, farming was very exhausting because it required manual work and there was no mechanization involved. I remember we got our first harvester when I was in my twenties. At the end of 2007, Songjiang District tried to develop some family farms of 6.6 to 10 hectares in size. My father applied to be the first group of family farm owners and was contracted to farm 7.8 hectares. I quit my job and went home to help.

My father retired in 2012 and then I took over the family farm, becoming the district's youngest family farm owner at the time. 

Now my wife and I are working together on our family farm, which has expanded to 28 hectares. Spring is the busiest season for us. After spring, we will be busy. Every day we get up at about 5am, head onto the farm, dig up the soil, sow seeds and perform some management tasks afterwards. During the busiest days, we have to work through 7 or 8pm.

But, to tell the truth, I still feel that I have more strength to farm more land, and my goal is be responsible for about 33 hectares in total.

Li Chunfeng visiting an agricultural market in Europe.

There are also great changes in income. I remember that in 2007, the income of my whole family was less than 50,000 yuan (US$7,320) annually. But now our living standards have improved. For example, if I was still working in the factory, how could I afford a house in an urban area? Now I have a condo in the urban area of Songjiang and a car. In the farming season I live here. During other times, I live somewhere else and drive here to work.

I visited Germany and France to see how their agriculture is as a representative of Shanghai farmers, which broadened my horizons. I found out that the mechanization level of Shanghai's agriculture is no lower than other countries, and that there are still many new modes to be worked on. Many people around me have started to open new businesses like agricultural entertainment and plantation to attract tourists, who can pick fruit and experience country life.

In the past four decades, people's views toward agriculture have also gradually changed. Now manual agricultural production has almost disappeared. Sometimes there are some people who want to experience farming culture and ask to transplant rice seedlings with their hands. A few days earlier some urban residents came to our village to experience manual seedling transplantation, which is likely to be unfamiliar to the younger generation.

Songjiang District places great emphasis on agriculture. To attract more youth into the farmers' group, first they will need a stable income. For instance, a farmer who works more than 10 hectares of land can enjoy a yearly income of 100,000 yuan. I feel that an increasing number of young people have come back to farming and that family farms are enjoying a revival.

The farmers in Songjiang are mostly local people. As far as I know, there are more than 900 households in Songjiang who are farming families, and they mainly farm in two ways — one is a mix of plantation and breeding, and the other is a mechanism of sharing agricultural machines and group work. Almost all family farm owners in the village have driving licences for these agricultural machines.

My son is now studying in high school and I used to talk with him about farming. He joked that if he doesn't succeed in study, he will come back home to take over the business. For me, it depends on his own will. If he is willing to enter farming, I will support him. Being a farmer is decent now and has a promising future. I believe there will be more in the younger generations returning home and picking up farming.

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