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Dec. 18, 2013

David Ortega: Catching the China Bug

Dec. 18, 2013

David L. Ortega is an assistant professor of global agri-food systems. He joined the Department of Agriculture, Food, and Resource Economics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in January 2013.

Born in Venezuela, raised in Florida, and passionate about…China. It only took one trip for me to fall in love with that country, even if it was by accident. I was a graduate student at Purdue University studying agricultural economics when my advisor approached me with an idea to do research on emerging agricultural markets in China. We traveled together that summer to study meat demand and to better understand some of the food safety events that had recently taken place.

Though I avoided any physical illnesses on that first trip, I had clearly caught, what we with emerging careers in China like to call “the China bug.” I have made close to 10 trips to China since 2008 and with each trip my commitment to better understanding their food system in order to create a safer food supply for both Chinese and global consumers has only increased.

David Ortega in a Chinese food marketFrom the grasslands of Inner Mongolia to the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas, I’ve traversed the country talking with farmers and consumers while conducting economic experiments that have contributed to increased knowledge on the economics of food safety in China. My research has shown that urban Chinese consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of their food and that they are willing to pay for safer, higher quality food products.

Whether it’s planting rice paddies, herding Tibetan yak, or wading through fishponds, I enjoy working up close with farmers. Through this hands-on approach to my work, I am better able to understand the economic forces that are shaping the Chinese agricultural marketing system.

It is both interesting and a challenge being a part of a reinvention of a food system that is comprised of 1.4 billion people, of which over 300 million are farmers.

It is important that my work has real impacts on today’s society and makes a positive contribution to the agricultural economics profession. I’ve had the opportunity to personally brief representatives from the U.S. government, Chinese government, granting agencies and other stakeholders regarding the findings of my research.

As I finish up my first year as a faculty member at Michigan State University, I am excited to expand my research into different countries. With this university’s commitment to global research and outreach, I’m likely to catch another “bug.”