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Provincial profiles of the Jiangsu Province.

Jiangsu province in East China is one of the most economically and socially developed provinces in the country. It is divided into at least two distinct regions. North Jiangsu (Subei) has more in common with the neighboring province of Shandong which, until recently was one of the less developed coastal provinces.

South Jiangsu (Su'nan) with its rich agricultural base and vibrant township and village enterprises, lively market towns and cities along the Yangtze River, and access to large markets both domestically and internationally, makes up part of the prosperous Jiangnan region incorporating Shanghai and the north of Zhejiang province (Zhebei).

The Tea Industry in Jiangsu

It is in the hills and plains of South Jiangsu that tea is grown, and grown very successfully. From 1949 to 1981, starting from the very low base of an annual output of 300 tons, Jiangsu's output increased 23 times to 6,300 tons. By 1992 it had more than doubled again to 14,100 tons.

It was in the late 1950's, during the period known as the Great Leap Forward, that the tea industry began to develop at a rapid rate in Jiangsu. This growth continued throughout the 10 year period of the chaotic Cultural Revolution (1966-76), slowed down in the late 1970's and picked up again into the 1980's. During periods of high growth, average annual increases in output of over 10% were not uncommon.

From 1979 to 1989, the area of tea fields in Jiangsu increased by an annual average of 2%, well above the national average of 0.1%. This brought area up from 10,800 ha to 13,133 ha. However, since a peak of 15,000 ha in 1984, over the past eight years area has followed national trends by falling back.

Output increased by an annual average of 10.5% over the period 1979 to 1989, compared to the national average of 6.4%, and nearly trebling production from 4,800 tons to 13,600 tons. And unlike the situation in many other Chinese provinces, the rate of output growth was sustained over the whole period. In many other localities, the rate of growth fell away markedly in the second half of this decade.

Jiangsu remains one of the smaller producers of tea in China, although its yields are among the highest in the country. Over the period 1979 to 1989, total yields rose by an annual average of 8.5%, above the national average of 6.3% and, at 1,033 kg/ha, were twice the national average of 502 kg/ha. Plucked yields were 1,219 kg/ha, well above the national average of 651 kg/ha.

The Tea Industry by Regions

The tea industry of Jiangsu is concentrated in four districts in the south of the province: Wuxi municipality, Changzhou municipality, Zhenjiiang municipality and the municipality of the provincial capital of Nanjing. Nearly half the provincial output comes from the counties in Wuxi municipality, with Yixing county contributing 90% of that total.

Yixing county is the largest tea producer in Jiangsu province, and is a national tea production base. In 1985 the area of tea fields stood at 3,760 ha with an output of 3,221 tons. Area stood at under a quarter of the total tea gardens of the province, while output was equal to about one-third of the 1985 provincial output of 9,200 tons. This meant that total yields were 857 kg/ha as against total provincial yields of 642 kg/ha.

In 1988, output in Yixing totalled 5,235 tons out of the provincial total of 13,898 tons. Only three other counties in the province had an output of over 1,000 tons in that year: Jintan with 1,612 tons, Piaoyang with 2,007 tons (both in Changzhou Municipality) and Jurong county in Zhenjiang municipality with 1,118 tons. In 1989, tea output in Wuxi Municipality was 5,674 tons out of a provincial total of 13,568 tons.

Scale of Operations

It is one of the major contentions of the study which Dan Etherington and I have undertaken into the Chinese tea industry since 1988 that the decollectivization of tea farms to households in the early 1980's has on the whole not been of benefit to the industry. We argue that without security of tenure or lengthy land leases, tea farmers, many of whom place their tea bushes second in priority to other crops such as grain and vegetables, will not invest in their minute tea strips and that the scale of operations does not justify such investment.

There is a body of evidence, some of which we have seen with our own eyes, of recent neglect of the crop and poor management practices. Official Chinese statistics reveal a large gap between the total and plucked area of tea fields. We have calculated that most of the tea fields in China are mature, a fact which should be, but is not, reflected in plucked area statistics.

Yields, which are low by historical and international standards, as well as in comparison with those attained on research institutes, state farms and larger enterprises in China, have stagnated and even declined since the late 1980's. We predict that without a major effort this trend will continue.

Jiangsu offers an example of a province which resisted the tide away from collective management of tea fields, and recent surveys by Chinese researchers will be drawn upon in this article to draw out some features of the Jiangsu experience.

Co-operative Tea Farms

The situation in Jiangsu is of particular interest because of the apparent decision not to subdivide the commune tea fields. Some villages in the province did divide up the land among households, but after about three years realized their mistake and recollectivized operational control. According to an article published in the national tea journal China Tea in 1989, the reasons why Jiangsu decided not to divide up its tea fields was that as a cash crop with a commoditization rate of about 90%, tea requires an appropriate scale of operations.

At the end of the 1970's, the province decided to concentrate large-scale tea production in four counties. In 1988, output from these counties made up 75% of the provincial total of nearly 14,000 tons. The province then developed a contract responsibility system suited to the nature of the tea industry. Tea fields were not divided up among households or individual businesses but a contract responsibility system was implemented, known as "unified business, contract management, honoring bonuses and fines, and farm head responsibility."

In Changzhou Municipality, the "farm director responsibility system" has become the core of the contract responsibility system and has led to a rapid increase in output. With a stable area of around 2,700 hectares, of which nearly 90% is plucked (making this nearly 25% of the provincial total), output grew from 2,115 tons in 1982 to 3,805 tons in 1988 (27% of provincial output) with average yields of 1,428 kg/ha, a figure which is at the forefront of national yields.

There are now 150 large and medium-sized farms in the municipality, spread across 29 villages and townships, as well as 12 state tea farms. Ninety collective farms have average areas of over seven hectares each, while the area of state farms has stabilized.

Village tea farms have become the backbone of the industry. From 1983 to 1988, the proportion of municipal output from these farms rose from 43 to 58%. Over the same period the proportion of tea coming from state farms fell from 57-42%.

Thus, co-operative tea farming is shown to be a viable proposition, a conclusion which contradicts the views of many scholars and government bureaucrats in China.

Co-operative Tea Farms in

Yixing County

Yixing county in Jiangsu province is the home of the most famous tea pottery in China. It is also an old tea-growing district. In 1949, the area of tea fields was only 700 ha, with output at 175 tons. By 1960, output had doubled to 360 tons.

In 1963, in order to meet the needs of the international market, the Shanghai Tea Import and Export Company experimented with growing quality black tea in conjunction with a State Tea Farm. The increased income earned by this farm encouraged other state tea farms in the province to produce broken black tea, and also led to the rapid growth of commune and brigade-run tea farms in the province.

According to the authors of a survey of the tea industry in Yixing, the proliferation of tea farms was "like the shooting up of bamboo after spring rain." By 1978, tea output in Yixing county had reached over 1,500 tons, and by 1989 had more than tripled to 5,165 tons with average yields of 1,357 kg/ha, five times the level of 1949. One farm of 11 ha had yields of 4,313 kg/ha. The value of tea production in 1989 was over 200 times that of 1949.

There are now 132 tea farms in Yixing being run by villages and hamlets, successors respectively to people's communes and production brigades. In addition, there are three state farms with a total area of 800 hectares. The 132 village/hamlet farms contribute 79% of the tea growing area and 60% of output. Fifteen farms have an area less than 7 ha, with the smallest having only 4.25 ha (output in 1989 was 4.25 tons).

The biggest village-run farm plucked 120 ha in 1989, with an output of 273 tons and average yields of 2,280 kg/ha, which is close to the state farm average of 2,580 kg/ha.

The area of hamlet tea farms averages about 20 ha. All these tea farms undertake a production responsibility system of collective contracting with the appointment of a farm manager responsible for the tea gardens.

The report considers that the success of the tea industry in Yixing is due to the joint efforts of all those involved. Under the system of collective contracting and assignment of farm head responsibility, responsibility, power and interests are clearly differentiated, so that the enthusiasm of the farm workers can be mobilized.

"Collective contracting and farm-head responsibility" is a production responsibility system with three productivity measures (output, output value, and quality), three cost elements (fixed costs, wages and bonuses) and a three-tier form of contracting (from the village or hamlet to the farm, from the farm to work zones and workshops, and from the work zones/workshops to individual laborers).

It is claimed that under this system everyone is clear about responsibilities and rewards. The farm heads are all locals and, together with the technical cadres, provide management and scientific skills. Thus, the co-operative tea farms are, in the eyes of the report's authors, an outstanding success.

Specialized Tea Farmers in Jiangsu

In an article carried in the journal of the Shanghai Tea Society in 1990, two Chinese scholars published the results of their field trip to Yixing county. They discovered that most of the county's tea farms remain under unified management as collective businesses.

In 1983, one village had experimented with two different types of contract. Nine hamlets with 352 ha of tea signed contracts with individual households. Another eight hamlets with 180 ha gave the contracts to specialized groups operating on a relatively large scale. Three years of experience with the two systems produced radically different results.

The results from the specialized group farms were over twice as good as the individual households. In addition to higher output, the quality of the tea was superior.

By 1985, the individual households had improved their output by an average of 4.2% while the hamlet groups had increased their productivity by 27.6%. The reasons for the inferior results from individual households were attributed to the minute scale of the individual plots, poor management and a lack of investment.

The contrasts were so noticeable that when the contracts expired in 1987 the tea fields under individual operation were converted to specialized group contracting. Except on remote scattered hillside fields, all the tea farms in the county are now run by the village or hamlet.

The article concluded that the move to individual household contracting offers no future for the tea industry. It stated that "production is not stable, quality cannot improve, new varieties and new techniques cannot be used or propagated, and lack of investment is common."

The authors also commented on the widespread tendency to plunder the bushes when only short term interests are considered. Such behavior inevitably leads to a serious neglect of tea field maintenance.

Between 1984 and 1989, Jiangsu's tea output increased by 73% and yields by 96%. There has been an emphasis on the integration of crude and refined processing on a relatively large scale so as to promote efficiency (for the distinction between crude and refined processing,- see Tea & Coffee Trade journal, October 1990, p. 26). Multi-channel marketing of the tea has been adopted, with tea farms becoming actively involved.

Finally, a systematic extension service network has been put in place as a technical backup for the industry. At present, there are over 200 technical cadres in the province with a network extending down to the county, village and farm.

The evidence from Jiangsu province thus suggests that the future for China's tea industry may well lie in the popularization of well-managed specialist and cooperative tea farms.

Jiangsu has shown that it was not necessarily the scale of operations which contributed to the widespread view that the former collective farms of the Maoist era were unviable, but it was rather the lack of personal incentive for tea farmers and the authoritarian work style of rural officials. Jiangsu seems to have overcome the weaknesses of the old collective system while retaining its advantages.
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Author:Forster, Keith
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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