By Colin Carter
Recently I joined a large delegation from UC Davis, led by Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, at the 80th anniversary celebration of China’s Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University in Shaanxi province, including an international forum on the development of western China cosponsored by UC Davis. For all of us, the forum was a powerful reminder that western China is key to the future prosperity of that nation — much like California, which rose from obscurity to become the richest and most agriculturally productive state in the U.S.
Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, was the beginning of the Silk Road, which opened up political and economic linkages between China and other civilizations. Western China has vast land area and undeveloped resources that will be critical for the future economic development of the country.
In terms of economic development over the past 30 years, eastern China is far ahead of western China, which now is home to 400 million people, including most of China’s poor communities. Seventy percent of those people are engaged in agriculture and have farm incomes less than one-third that of urban incomes. Solving these looming problems of the west will be key to China’s future.
This may seem a daunting task, but remember that just over 110 years ago California was considered a poor, desert region and yet it has since grown to become the richest state and number one agricultural producer in the nation. California and much of the American West prospered as infrastructure, market incentives and water were made available, and its agricultural development was accelerated by research, teaching and extension services provided by the University of California.
UC Davis and Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University recently agreed to work together to establish a joint research center on food safety. Through this and other initiatives, many of us at UC Davis are eager to partner with China and the Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University to help solve the agricultural, environmental and ecological challenges associated with the economic development of Western China.
Professor Colin Carter is an agricultural economist at UC Davis with roughly 30 years of research experience in China.