China explores global sustainable procurement to transform green agriculture


China has made great achievements in agriculture modernization, but the problems of unbalanced domestic agricultural green development and the insufficient supply of high-quality green agricultural products still exist.

In recent years, China has increasingly paid attention to green development transformation. China first proposed the concept of agricultural green development (AGD) in 2015, aiming to achieve the goals of food security, resource efficiency, and ecological environment in a coordinated manner. To do so, China has been promoting green and low-carbon production methods, increasing investment in green and high-quality agricultural products, and striving to achieve sustainable agricultural business development.

On the one hand, the total amount of agricultural production is sufficient in China, and the supply and demand of subsistence agricultural products have been balanced. On the other hand, China has seen an escalating demand of high-end consumer products. As China’s economy continues to grow and residents’ income levels rise with it, the Chinese population’s agricultural consumption trend is morphing from “eating enough” to “eating well”, and “eating healthy” has become the agricultural product consumption focus.

Chinese consumers’ increasing interest in healthy and high-quality products

The concepts of green, low-carbon, and environmentally friendly agricultural products are continuing to heat up in China. Online sales of green agricultural products are booming, and consumer demand for green agri-products is growing rapidly. Terms such as “organic” and “green” have become the most favored ecological keywords related to the quality of agricultural products by consumers. Today, more and more consumers are choosing agricultural products that are greener, healthier, and more sustainable in the production process. The origin of production has gradually increased in prominence on the labels of high-quality agricultural products.

China is also currently exploring the global procurement of sustainable supply chains and promoting sustainable agricultural practices. On May 31, one of the largest Chinese food companies, COFCO, fulfilled the first shipment of its ground-breaking agreement to deliver 50,000 tons of deforestation-and conversion-free (DCF) soybeans to China. The DCF concept originated from the World Economic Forum (WEF), aiming to achieve the goal of ending deforestation all over the world by 2030. “Zero deforestation” soybean means that the soybean plantation is not associated with deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems. COFCO has achieved 100% full traceability of directly procured soybeans from Brazil.

Given that the Chinese market plays an important role in the international agricultural business trade, the procurement of sustainable agricultural products marks a meaningful milestone for China to build a deforestation-free supply chain and to drive green transformation in the global value chain. As Jack Hurd, Executive Director of Tropical Forest Alliance, said: “As a market leader in China, COFCO International has paved the way for sustainable procurement at a larger scale.” 

Commonly, sustainability efforts in Western countries tend to be driven by consumers, while in China the major shifts are driven by policy signals and investment concerns. China has stated that it will strive to reach its climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions to a peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. Subsequently, over the past year, Chinese buyers have shifted towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly products, such as sustainable soybeans. This change not only responds to evolving consumer expectations, but also aligns with the country’s policy direction. Stimulated by sustainable consumption trends and green development policy, future demand from China for sustainable green agricultural products is expected to grow steadily, which will in turn help to drive a green transition across the global value chain.

Authored by

Miranda Dai is a Senior Research Analyst based in China.

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