Economy

Nestle's Promised Cash Cow Has Run Dry For Chinese Dairy Farmers

Chinese farmers are tired of selling their milk to Nestle at steeply discounted prices, and want an end to local bans on selling elsewhere. Some have threatened to slaughter their cows instead of letting Nestle and their government-backed local monopoly m

Chinese farmers
Chinese farmers
Hao Daqin

Dairy farmers from Twin City in Heilongjiang province are refusing to provide their milk to Nestle. They have been supplying milk for years but now some farmers would rather slaughter their cows than sell their milk. The aim is to resist the longstanding monopoly Nestle has in northeastern China's largest milk producing city.

Though Nestle has said it will "investigate" the situation, the conflict is the result of what we'd call a perfect case of "make the cake and divide the cake", a common dynamic in Chinese society today.

In 2002, Nestle signed a contract with the municipal authority of Twin City to have a monopoly over purchasing from all dairy farmers. Not only is the city prohibited from dealing with any other dairy company, its farmers are also obliged to sell their milk only to Nestle. The local government owns Nestle shares, and the mayor also holds an important position in the international company.

As a consequence, the city's dairy farmers have suffered from very low prices for their milk, while the local authority is busy sending public authorities and livestock department bureaucrats to catch farmers who try to sell elsewhere.

Big cake, many slices

Initially, Twin City's farmers benefited from the arrival of the Nestle factory, and the number of dairy farmers subsequently soared. Competition, of course, brought down prices. But the worst came with the poisonous melamine milk scandal in 2008, in which Chinese farmers were found to have added the chemical melamine to dairy products to artificially inflate the percieved protein content. Six infants who drank contaminated formula died as a result, and a further 860 infants were hopsitalized. Although the tainted milk came from a different company in another region, Nestle's factory in Twin City also tested positive for melamine. Since then, the purchasing price offered by Nestle plummeted, and within two years cow numbers dropped from 28,000 to 21,000. The price per liter is 20-60% less than elsewhere.

The cake that Nestle brought to Twin City started out big. The city received 60% of its tax revenue from Nestle in 2004. Even in 2010, it still accounts for nearly 20% of the city's total fiscal revenue. The problem is that the city's revenue is more or less equivalent to the farmers' lost income from the suppressed prices. In other words, what Nestle pays in taxes is robbed directly from the local farmers' pockets.

The Twin City's authorities thought they had created a cake that was big enough for everyone to share. But now the farmers feel they are suppling too many ingredients relative to the piece of the cake they get in return. They refuse to be exploited forever, no matter how big the cake is.

If the farmers are denied basic economic freedom, they will naturally choose an even more radical freedom - not to sell milk at all. And as everyone knows, you can't bake a cake without milk.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - Wootang01

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food / travel

Town Annihilated In Spanish Civil War Now A Paranormal Attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite. A growing number of tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town.

A famous old village in Spain, this place was witness of a bloody fight in the Spanish civil war.
Paco Rodríguez

BELCHITE – Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the town of Belchite in northeastern Spain became a strategic objective for the forces of the Republican government, before their assault on the nearby city of Zaragoza. Belchite seemed a simple target, but its capture took longer than expected. More than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting, and the town was decimated, with almost half the town's 3,100 residents dying in the struggle.

The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one. The streets remained deserted. Stray dogs were the only ones to venture into the weed-covered, pockmarked ruins. A sign written on one wall reads, "Old town, historic ruins." Graffitis scrawled on the doors of the Church of San Martín recall better times: "Old town of Belchite, youngsters no longer stroll your streets. The sound of the jotas our parents sang is gone."

Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, must remain exposed.


For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

Haunting the filming of Baron Munchausen 

The journalist and researcher Carlos Bogdanich decided to find out whether such claims made any sense, and visited Belchite on a cold October evening in 1986. He went with a crew from the television program Cuarta Dimensión (Fourth Dimension). Toward dawn, he related, a force seemed to pull and control them for several hours. They moved as if someone were guiding them, unaware of what they were doing. He recalled later, "We went up the Clock Tower. We thought we'd go right to the top. The next day, when we saw what we had done, we couldn't believe it. We could have gotten ourselves killed, and still, something enticed us to do this."

The true sounds of war reappeared.

They didn't see anything strange. But listening back to the recordings, they discovered sounds that could be easily identified with the war: planes, bombs, tanks, shots or army songs. The mysterious recordings made a big noise at the time, in Spain and around the world.

The legend began to take off then and has yet to subside today. Another example of paranormal events took place in the town during the filming of Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). Some members of the film crew saw two women dressed in traditional clothes who vanished when approached.

Belchite's mysterious ambiance also inspired the Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who shot parts of Pan's Labyrinth here; and Spain's Albert Boadella, who had his grotesque version of General Francisco Franco in Have a Good Trip, Your Excellency returns to Belchite.

Ruins of the village of Belchite, in Zaragoza, Spain

RICHARD MURPHY/WOSTOK/ZUMA

Tourists drawn to unexplainable phenomena 

Ordinary visitors have also encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends.

Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

There are four zones where the experiences have been more intense: the Plaza de la Cruz, the mass grave, and the town's two churches. In fact, there are mass graves in all four spots, both from the Civil War and the plague epidemic that hit the area in the Middle Ages.

Whatever the truth of the accounts, Belchite has become one of the most visited sites in the province of Zaragoza in recent years. And regardless of ghosts, its streets were the setting of horrible acts and a history that should not be repeated. The streets of Belchite are the open wounds of a town that had to reinvent itself to go on living.

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