BEIJING, April 29 (Xinhua) -- Starting as a lament for an old woman's rotting lettuce, an online posting has ignited a real-word battle to safeguard the well-being of Chinese vegetable growers.
As urban consumers continued to complain about inflated food prices, a plunge in the price of vegetables has agonized Chinese farmers, forcing tonnes of unsold produce to rot in fields.
"My old grandma will have to dump all the asparagus lettuce she had grown so arduously, as nobody came to buy her harvest," said netizen "I love heaven and earth," while asking for a helping hand.
The author, whose real name is Yao Yuanyuan, said her grandmother lives on a river island near the city of Zhenjiang in east China's Jiangsu Province, where people lead an idyllic existence and grow vegetables away from industrial pollution.
But as asparagus lettuce across China celebrated the harvests at the same time this year, its price plummeted to a record 0.2 yuan (3 U.S. cents) per kilogram, which could not even cover the cost of production. Sales were further complicated due to the additional ferry fees.
The granddaughter's emotional call tugged the heartstrings of netizens. Many began promoting asparagus lettuce as a healthy food, while others shared menus with the stem as the main ingredient.
Furthermore, nearly 200 netizens embarked on a car expedition to the island, where they bought the "grandma's lettuce" directly from local farmers.
"We're actually helping ourselves," said netizen "Xiangbala," who was harvesting lettuce by herself. Losses for farmers would lead to shorter supplies and higher prices in the next year, she said.
The average price of 0.5 yuan per kilogram presented a delightful bargain compared to the 1 yuan/km in the city's markets. But to the growers, it was a godsend.
"I couldn't feel more grateful to those kind-hearted people - they even shouldered the transportation fees," said Zhu Yuemei, the 73-year-old grandmother referred to in the post.
The legion of netizens purchased 2.5 tonnes from the local farmers. And as of Wednesday, media coverage has brought more than 100 buyers from the city's school canteens and supermarkets to purchase the remaining plants.
WHEN VEGETARIANISM BECOMES A CHARITY
A widespread drop in vegetable prices, or more precisely, prices paid to farmers, following a big harvest, received national attention after a farmer in Shandong committed suicide over a price plunge of his harvested cabbage.
Over the following week, photos of farmers tearfully crushing their unsold vegetables crisscrossed on the Internet. The epiphany surprised many consumers, as they found no substantial change in vegetable prices in the supermarkets.
The issue became even more baffling, as people recalled the public complaints regarding the skyrocketing prices of garlic, ginger, and mung beans, some most common ingredients in Chinese cuisines, just a year ago.
"Agricultural produce has to go through many price hurdles to reach consumers' bowls," said Zhou Siran, a researcher with a consulting company.
Zhou blamed the high price on too many middlemen and miscellaneous fees but said that they also squeezed farmers' margins and fueled the current crisis.
On China's Internet, people are lobbying for eating more vegetables as a healthy alternative to meat and, more importantly, as an emergency solution to save vegetable farmers from doom.
In one of the most eye-popping calls, a post on baidu.com, China's largest searching engine, encouraged netizens to have "three days of vegetarianism" as a way to promote vegetable sales.
Local charities were also pouring in. In Xi'an, vegetable feasts came as a windfall after a wholesale market purchased 350 tonnes of unsold celery, cabbage, and lettuce and delivered them as free gifts.
Canteens of public institutions like schools and government departments also joined in the campaign. In northwest China's Shaanxi Province, prisons bought 70 tonnes of vegetables from farmers who had difficulties selling their produce.
To uproot the problem, China needs a national approach to raise the scale of agricultural production and to reduce its reliance upon middlemen, experts and officials said.
China's Ministry of Commerce released a statement Tuesday asking local supermarkets to purchase produce directly from farmers to trim middlemen costs.
China should also enhance the price monitoring and improve communication between farmers and produce dealers, it said.