JINAN/NANCHANG, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- When Yao Huifeng quit his well-paid job in a medical company to become a rice grower six years ago, he was nicknamed "Yao the idiot."
Now people call him "manager Yao" due to his successful career transition.
From city life to farm work in Yifeng County, east China's Jiangxi Province, Yao has tried various methods for high-quality rice, the only constant being that his produce is organic.
He avoids using chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and leaves the field fallow for a season to guarantee quality, which is what Chinese middle-class consumers now care about most.
His rice sells at 10 yuan (1.45 U.S. dollars) a kilo, three times higher than average, yet still popular.
Last year, his success drew more than 70 local farmers to join his rice cooperative.
"Ninety percent of the local fields have switched to organic rice, and the economic output in our cooperative has exceeded 4 million yuan," Yao told Xinhua.
Organic farming, and eco-farming in a broader sense, is becoming increasingly popular in the world's most populous nation amid growing concerns for food safety.
China has become the world's fourth largest organic food consumer, but organic food penetration is still small, taking up only about 1.5 percent of the country's food market share, according to a report by Zero Power Intelligence Group, a research institution headquartered in Shenzhen.
Lured by the tremendous market potential of green food, companies have rushed into the sector in search of profits.
Zhengzhuang farm, based in Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province, has been devoted to high-quality, chemical-free fruit since it was founded in 2012.
Like Yao's farm, it abandoned chemical fertilizers and turned back to "old-fashioned" animal manure to use on the land of about 67 hectares.
"Using chemical fertilizers can cause the soil to harden and degrade, while organic manure can help the land regain nutrients," said Wang Yan, co-founder of the farm.
Wang has been purchasing manure from a nearby dairy farm for the last three years. Two cows, each producing a tonne of dung a year, can meet the demand of one mu of land.
"Apart from cow dung, we also use feces of geese, horses, donkeys and earthworms. The greater the variety of manure, the better," she added.
Wang calls herself a modern farmer, who represents a new generation of growers embracing innovative and green agriculture production.
China has been promoting sustainable farming to reform the agriculture industry in recent years. A document issued earlier this week called for an output increase in high-quality products based on green and innovative production. It also said the country would maintain a zero increase in the usage of pesticides and fertilizers.
Long-time reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to boost production has resulted in severe problems, such as pollution and soil degradation.
Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture show about one-third of the world's chemical pesticides, or 1.4 million tonnes, are used in China every year. The use of pesticides in China is 2.5 times the amount in developed countries.
"Arable lands in China faces three major problems -- low productivity, soil degradation and low fertility," said Gao Yiwu, CEO of Kingenta Ecological Engineering Group, a fertilizer manufacturer.
Many have already felt the pinch of unsustainable farming.
Wang Cuifen has been growing crops since 1997.
"The output increased year by year in the past decades, but the soil is getting harder and harder these years, and I had to use more chemical fertilizers to maintain a high yield, but I know it will not work long," she told Xinhua.
In 2014, sponsored by the local government, Wang started to use organic fertilizers. "It worked really well and the soil is getting rich again," she said.
The revival of manure has also created new business opportunities for Liu Shuchun, a pig breeder.
The disposal of the excrement of his 5,000 pigs used to be a big headache, but not now.
The price of a tonne of pig manure sold for 40 yuan in 2012, this year the price was double.
"It is very promising," Liu said.
He has set up 19 biogas digesters to produce organic fertilizers out of pig manure. A tonne of the processed manure cost up to 750 yuan but still sells fast.
A dead-end in old farming and a shift in consumption habits has encouraged more farmers to engage in green agriculture.
To promote supply-side reform in agriculture, authorities are training more professional talent and offering favorable fiscal policies for business start-ups in rural area to encourage investment, increase farmers' income and create safe food, which is good for both farmers and consumers.
"The success of agricultural supply-side reform depends on increase in farmers' income as well as more quality farm products," said Tang Renjian, deputy director of the central rural work leading group. "Efforts should be made to maintain a sustainable, green agriculture growth, rather than relying on resource consumption."