Participatory Guarantee Systems and the Sustainability
of Small Organic Farms (生态农庄) in China
Despite China’s tremendous economic growth, there remains one salient area that Chinese people do not perceive as having improved: the quality and safety of food. Chinese consumers struggle with the question “is it safe” in their everyday food purchasing decisions. This is the context behind the organic/local food movement in China â€“ one that greatly impacts the small farms that struggle to survive economically, faced with competition from Chinese industrial agriculture. Large agro-industrial organic farms benefit from state certifications of food safety, while small organic farms seek to find ways to build trust among Chinese urbanites. Based on fieldwork conducted between 2014-2016 in Shanghai and Beijing, we will explore the myriad, disparate (and often imported) structures and ideologies that food activists in Shanghai use to better connect urban consumers with rural farmers, such as IFOAM-Organics International’s Participatory Guarantee Systems. Using social network analysis (SNA), however, we have found that the social context is crucial in determining the success (in terms of sustainability) of the implementation of trust-building mechanisms. We will explore how differences revealed through SNA in the social context of the food movement (which includes food activists, farmers markets, cooperatives, and small farmers) helps to explain different levels of sustainability between farms in Beijing and Shanghai, which can help food activists choose localized approaches that will help make small organic farms more economically sustainable.