Author Archives: mlaperro

The synergy between fish and rice

No, this is not a sushi advertisement but the result of a scientific study reported by Nature.

In southern China, farmers have been cultivating fish and rice in the same fields for more than 1,200 years — with good reason, according to a group led by Xin Chen at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. Farming fish and rice together (co-culture) achieves the same rice yield as growing rice alone (monoculture), but uses 68% less pesticide and 24% less chemical fertilizer.

Both cultures ‘help’ each other and themselves. Rice benefits fish by providing shade and reducing water temperature during the hot season. Fish swimming among the rice plants bump into the stems, knocking off as many as one-quarter of pests called rice planthoppers. In addition, nitrogen from unconsumed fish feed is taken up by the rice plants, boosting yields.

There are probably plenty of other instances in which co-culture does as well if not better than technology.

Ultimate growth

A growth rate of 19218% (no, you didn’t miss a comma: nineteen thousand and two hundred eighteen percent).

That’s what the winner of the 2011 Deloitte Technology Fast500 Asia Pacific achieved over a 3 year period. Launched in 2008, the Store Corporation (Yihaodian) provides Chinese customers with a one-stop shopping platform, offering all their essential daily items at competitive prices (3-5% cheaper than in supermarkets).

The next question is of course whether such growth can be sustained. So far, one of the biggest problem faced by the firm is storage. At least one company feels it’s worth the try: Walmart acquired a minority stake in the firm during the summer: it may not be enough tho maintain such hyper-growth rates but a strategic partnership with the world’s largest supermarket chain will at the minimum bring some insight into the logistics aspect of the business.

P.S.: According to BCG another 30m Chinese will go online to shop for the first time every year until 2015.

One step back, two steps forward?

Like many other countries, China has taken a hard look at its nuclear strategy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Temporary suspension of new plants’ approval and review of safety put on hold China’s ambitious nuclear plans. The measures were only temporary and nuclear will probably come back with a vengeance in China. Not that the country has many options anyway if it really wants to reduce its CO2 emissions as recently outlined in a White Paper on the Green Agenda. With the forecasted growth in primary energy consumption for the next 20 years – depending on the scenarios anywhere between 7’000 and 14’000 million ton of CO2 equivalent in 2030 – traditional renewable energies (solar, wind or hydropower) will probably not suffice to drench China’s demand for energy.

The good news is that China may opt for more recent (3rd generation) nuclear technology. The bad news (at least for foreign sellers of nuclear technology) is that China may want to extend the timeout and develop its own nuclear technology.

No global innovators in China?

Can Chinese firms be considered as global innovators? No… at least not according to the latest Thomson Reuters report “Top 100 Global Innovators“.

The conspicuous absence of Chinese firms in the ranking is at odds with he explosion of patents that has taken place in the recent years at the domestic level. It is all the more surprising given the massive effort of international patenting carried out by ZTE and Huawei, which landed them respectively at the 2nd and 4th place in the WIPO ranking.

Is it a question of timing? Do Chinese firms take more time than others to transform their patents into products? Is it a question of geographic scope? Do Chinese firms file patents only in selected countries? May be it is  a question of methodology. The criteria used to evaluate firms include success (filed vs. granted patents), global (patents filed in the USA, Europe, Japan and China), influence (subsequent citation of patents) and volume.

Chinese firms may not yet be top global innovators but they for sure are on the way to becoming top global competitors. It can be a costly mistake to believe that patenting is the only way to secure a competitive advantage.

Fiat eco-lux

China is on an eco-path. Not the one that other countries wanted in Copenhagen but on one it can engineer at its will. The government has announced a measure to progressively phase out incandescent light bulbs from 2012 onwards. The shift would be impressive: in five years, the plan is to ramp up annual production from 3 billion to 12 billion low-consumption light bulbs (a third of the production is currently intended for domestic consumption). To make sure that the targets are reached, a plan incentivizes eco-friendly light bulb producers.

Let’s hope that the thinking of the government included the re-cycling part of the supply chain since low-consumption light bulb contain mercury. Let’s also hope that the government will monitor the quality of the light bulbs. According to the China Daily, 70% of energy saving bulbs randomly tested in Chinese localities (including Beijing and Shanghai) did not reach the energy-saving standard required while 20% did not save any electricity at all compared with incandescent light bulbs.

P.S.: If one needed an additional proof that China does not want to meddle in other countries’ environmental affairs, Chinese exporters of traditional light bulbs are not concerned by the measure.

The end of (GM)time?

A new definition of time – based on atomic clocks and not on the earth rotation – is threatening the Greenwich Meridian Time (GMT) standard.

GMT is the result of a battle between France and Great Britain at the end of the 19th century to be the standard bearer of time. The balance of forces in those days decided that time would be defined by the passage of the sun over the zero meridian line at the Greenwich Observatory (near London).

With the shift of “gravity” towards the East, one could have imagined a ’21st century struggle’ between India and China to be the new standard keepers. So far, it seems that China opposes any change (for some reason its astronomers want to retain earth-rotation based time) but we will have to wait until the result of the vote at the International Telecommunication Union (in January 2012) to find out whether China’s newly acquired soft power extends into the 4th dimension.

The second death of the bicycle?

From the technological innovation imported in the 1890s to the must-have-for-a-wedding during the 1960s and 1970s (together with a sewing machine and a wristwatch), bicycles are much more than a means of transportation: they offer a glimpse into the evolution of the Chinese society.

The bell was tolling for the bicycle when, in 2010, China took over from the US the ‘enviable’ position of largest car market of the world. By then, some bicycle-only streets in Chinese cities had been turned into car-only streets. A little flicker of hope was provided by the massive adoption of electric bicycles (according to the New York Times, there are around 120 million of them in China). Would the eco-conscious government and citizens refrain from turning into a car society? Alas, the artifact’s original sin (its ‘noiselessness’) might be the cause of its second death: Shenzhen banned electric bicycles from the downtown area to reduce the number of accidents.

I wonder if electric cars will be banned for the same reason…

Innovation cities

Hong Kong (15), Shanghai (24), Beijing (53), Shenzhen (93) and Taipei (100)…. Greater China counts 5 cities in the top 100 innovation cities index.

How is the ranking determined? It seems that a number of indicators (across 31 industry and community segments) are weighted and summed into 3 factors: cultural assets, human infrastructure and networked markets.

Interestingly enough, the ‘innovation city’ ranking does not correlate very well with the ‘science city‘ ranking. This may of course be explained by the different methodologies and metrics used for both rankings. It may also indicate that turning science into innovation requires a particular set of skills. No surprise then that Hong Kong (way behind in science citations) comes well ahead in the innovation index. Shenzhen, not particularly known for its universities, can of course count on the innovation dynamism of Huawei and ZTE.

The end of telecom monopolies?

The information has yet to be officially confirmed but it appears that China Telecom may be under anti-monopoly investigation.

Its sin(s)? Abuse of dominance in the broadband market or more specifically charging other broadband service operators discriminatory network access fees. For those not versed in competition law jargon it means that the company is taking advantage of its position in the market to squeeze out competitors (usually by forcing them to resell services to the final customer under the cost of production).

The anti-monopoly law is one of the latest weapon in the arsenal of those trying to instill fair competition in the Chinese telecommunication market. The real question is why China Telecom’s counterpart (China Unicom) does not incur a similar investigation, given that both companies have nicely divided the country in two – the South for China Telecom and the North for China Unicom?

Petitions 2.0

The Chinese government is working hard to improve its e-government services, or so it looks.

After the launch of the Zhongnanhai website, where netizens could chat with their leaders, four cities in Guangdong have created an online system to submit petitions – one of the oldest form of communication between the citizens and the government. According to the Financial Times, the service will even include webcasts.

Some cynics may argue that it is probably those keen on petitioning – the disenfranchised – often don’t have access to the Internet and for those who do, well, there is always the risk of mails being lost in cyberspace.