Li Zhifang, 44, a fresh market businessman in Wuhan, Hubei province, was named a Food Hero by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on World Food Day, on Oct 16. Li was recognized for his contributions to ensuring local food supply and stabilizing price when the city was locked down over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Li is the sales manager of Wuhan Qiangxin Vegetable Production and Marketing Professional Cooperatives. Although vegetable prices had fluctuated in the early days of the lockdown when locals were forced to stay at home, Li's team insisted purchasing and selling vegetables at a reasonable price.
"For example, if the market price of a vegetable rocked to around 14 yuan per kilogram, we only gave 8 yuan to the farmers. If it slumped to 4 yuan per kilogram, we purchased at 6 yuan," Li told The Beijing News. "We had to persuade farmers to trade at a normal price, and they soon understood they could bring in a stable income this way."
Li added that it helped to ensure the supply to supermarkets and maintain a healthy business cycle in all respects. "It's a win-win," he said.
During the monthslong lockdown, the cooperative shipped as many as 1,300 bags of vegetables daily, around 8 kg each, to stores and communities, including those close to Huanan Seafood Market, the first epicenter of the pandemic.
Li said around 30 of his 70 colleagues were living in the city at the time, and they once worked from 8 am to 11 pm every day. Besides wages, they got a 150 yuan subsidy per person per day.
"When there's a war, the food supply for soldiers is a top priority. In such pressing circumstances, I felt it was our responsibility to take action," he said.
About the award, Li is both excited and shy. "I never went abroad myself, and now even the UN knew what I did. I felt proud of our country."
He added his story shows the UN's recognition for modern agriculture techniques. "Without an advanced supply and sales pattern, it's very difficult to ship vegetables timely and safely for special occasions," he said, adding that he plans to continue working to stabilize quality and price of food no matter what the circumstances might be.
It's the first time for the organization to establish an award for ordinary people who have worked to make food accessible during the pandemic. Li is the only Chinese person among the 26 winning individuals or teams worldwide.