Protected agriculture has the attention of the Chinese government (part 1)

China can provide important opportunities for Dutch greenhouse technology and knowhow. Therefore, it is important that stakeholders in that field are aware of what is going in the country. To facilitate that knowledge, the LAN team in Beijing and Shanghai recently organized a roundtable, during which Chinese experts shed light on the development in agricultural policies and practices on a national and regional level (Yangtze delta region and Shanghai).  In a series of three articles, the outcome of this roundtable will be discussed. This first article will deal with government policies related to facility agriculture. 


China is experiencing increasing urbanization, dramatic demographic changes and intense effects of global climate change. As a result, traditional methods of farming no longer suffice. This is recognized by the Chinese government whose policies have progressively emphasized the importance of facility agriculture and modern greenhouses. 
Facility agriculture is referred to by the Chinese government as protected agriculture. It is described as a modern agricultural production method that uses engineering technology to create controllable environmental conditions to produce agricultural and sideline products. 

National policy documents

On a national level, the Chinese authorities have published several policy documents pertaining to protected agriculture. In 2021, for example, it released the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and Vision 2035 of the People’s Republic of China. This Plan underlines China’s resolve to ‘improve the agricultural science and technology innovation system, actively develop facility agriculture, start project with protected agriculture large-scale fully mechanized animal husbandry.’

A year later, the No. 1 central document for 2022 was published. This document outlines eight ‘tasks’ to steadily advance rural revitalization. Protected agriculture is explicitly mentioned in task 2.10. The government wants to ‘Accelerate the development of protected agriculture. Develop facilities such as plastic greenhouses, solar greenhouses, and multi-span greenhouses according to local conditions. Concentrate on building seedling factory facilities. Encourage the development of new types of breeding facilities such as industrialized intensive farming and three-dimensional ecological farming. Promote the research and development and application of facilities and equipment technologies such as water and fertilizer integration, feeding automation, and intelligent environmental control. On the basis of protecting the ecological environment, explore the use of open and abandoned land to develop protected agriculture.’

Revitalizing rural areas

More recently, the government released the No. 1 central document for 2023, which outlines nine ‘tasks’ in comprehensively promoting rural revitalization. Protected Agriculture is explicitly mentioned under the task 1.3: ‘Develop modern facility agriculture. Implement the modernization promotion action of facility agriculture […] Explore the scientific use of Gobi and deserts to develop protected agriculture. Encourage local governments to provide credit discounts for the construction of facility agriculture.’ In 1.5, the stable supply of food and vegetable is included in the assessment of mayor responsibilities. 

And there are more policy documents, such as

-    In October 2022. Report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2022; section IV: Accelerating the Creation of a New Development Pattern and Pursuing High-Quality Development; Subsection 3: Advancing rural revitalization across the board.
-    In February 2023. Implementation Opinions of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs on Implementing the Party Central Committee and the State Council's Plans for Comprehensively Promoting the Key Tasks of Rural Revitalization in 2023. 

Yangtze River Delta Region as hub of innovation

The Yangtze River Delta Region (YRD), covering Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui, is one of the most economically active, open and innovative regions in China. Although the region makes up 3.7% of China’s territory, it is home to 16.74% of its population and accounts for 24.14% of its GDP and 14.59% of its fiscal revenue. Jiangsu province is a technology industry innovation center and advanced manufacturing base. Zhejiang is positioned as the digital economy innovation hub. Anhui is the area for scientific and technological innovation, emerging industries, and green development models. And Shanghai focuses on economy, finance, trade, shipping, science, and technology innovation.

China has a specific YRD strategy for the integrated development of the Yangtze River Deltas, which is a major national strategy. In December 2019, the outline of this regional integrated development plan of the YRD was issued by the CPC Central Committee and China’s State Council. Its aim? ‘Promoting open cooperation in key areas (including agriculture). Actively introducing advanced international modern agricultural production technology and management strategy to continuously increase the competence of agriculture among the globe […] Improving the quality of rural development.’

Other policy documents about YRD 

Other policy documents about YRD are:

-    In 2023. Land and Space Master Plan of the Yangtze River Delta Ecological Green Integrated Development Demonstration Zone (2021-2035):
‘Promote green ecological agriculture: comprehensively consider the introduction of innovative technologies and techniques such as vertical farming and climate-smart agriculture.’
-    In March 2023. Regulations of Shanghai Municipality on Promoting Rural Revitalization:
‘Create high-end protected agriculture industrial area,’ was mentioned in Article 26. ‘Strengthen the planning and construction of modern agricultural industrial parks such as Hengsha Dongtan,’ was mentioned in Article 27.
-    In 2021. The 14th Five-Year Plan for Rural Revitalization in Shanghai. 
The following aspects were included: 1) Promoting the green and low-carbon circular development and promoting the construction of Hengsha Dongtan Modern Agricultural Park; 2) Upgrading the technological equipment. Exploring the production mode of plant factory, paying more attending to industrialized production of edible fungi, vegetable seedlings, flower gardening, etcetera, and upgrade the urban agricultural facilities and equipment.

In Shanghai, the development of Hengsha Island from 2023 to 2025 was approved by the municipality of Shanghai. In the development plan, over 2.000 hectares were reserved for vegetable production. The current challenge for this plan is exploring a profitable business model to not only produce vegetables under extreme climate condition but also achieve the target for carbon peaking and neutrality.

Challenges and opportunities in the Chinese market

Concluding, it is safe to say that protected agriculture has the attention of the Chinese government, and that China can provide important opportunities for Dutch greenhouse technology and knowhow.  The next two articles in this series of three will reflect on high-tech greenhouses from the Netherlands that are currently used in China (part 2) and elaborate on the opportunities for the Dutch protected agriculture industry in the Chinese market (part 3).

Other articles in this series

Part 2 in this series reflects on the challenges of operating high-tech greenhouses in China. Part 3 delves into the opportunities that China provides for the protected agricultural sector in the Netherlands.