While some Chinese farmers rack their brains to get their corn, beans and milk sold, a Chinese-funded farm in Zambia, in remote Africa, sold everything the farm produced and is expected to make a profit of US$600,000 this year.
The Zhongken Farm, established near Lusaka with an investment of US$220,000 in 1994, sold a total of two million chickens, 1,000 heads of beef cattle, 6,000 pigs and 1.80 million liters of milk by the end of 2001. It was one the most successful stories of Chinese investment in the African agricultural sector.
"We are proof that Africa is a top option when we are about to invest in the agricultural sector abroad," said Han Xiangshan, deputy general manager of the China State Farms Agribusiness Corporation, owner of Zhongken Farm, summing up the company's experience in Africa at a seminar on Friday.
"We can make great profits through investing in the farming sector and processing farm produce," he told about 60 Chinese entrepreneurs attending the China-Africa Agricultural Investment and Cooperation Seminar, which wrapped up Friday.
Agriculture is one of China's greatest concerns following its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Many Chinese officials and farmers thought of investing in Africa when they were considering ways to cope with the challenges brought about by the WTO entry.
The entrepreneurs attending the two-day seminar hailed from 15 provincial localities of China. They were briefed about the basic conditions in Africa and about China's incentive policy for investing in Africa by vice-ministers from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation (MOFTEC) and Agriculture.
Han, along with other businessmen who have invested in Africa's farming sector, also shared their experiences with the entrepreneurs.
China and Africa have enjoyed traditional friendship. Beginning in the 1960s, China initiated a large number of cooperative agricultural projects in the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda. Most were initially aid projects, however, agriculture cooperation has continued up to the present time.
Officials said, however, that agricultural cooperation in Africa has changed a great deal since the early days.
Most African countries are now politically and socially stable, and have listed agriculture as the top priority in poverty relief and economic development.
With respect to China's experience, it continues to successfully provide food for its nearly 1.3 billion citizens. China's agricultural experience, high-breed crop species, agricultural technology and equipment are wanted by many developing countries, according to the participants.
"China will make agricultural cooperation with Africa a key area of cooperation in the coming years," said Li Zhaoxing, vice-minister of Foreign Affairs. "We will take more pragmatic and effective measures to push forward the mutually beneficial cooperation."
The Ministry of Agriculture said many African countries are interested in cooperating with China in the areas of crop cultivation, vegetable and flower-growing, agro-tech promotion and training, irrigation systems, the raising of farm animals and aquaculture, the processing of farm produce and in providing engineering services for agricultural projects.
However, some experts said that agricultural cooperation with Africa in the coming years should be conducted in new ways and should be able to generate profits. Non-profitable cooperation cannot last long, they said.
Officials in charge of China's investment abroad supported this position.
"China-Africa agricultural cooperation in the new century must be conducted by enterprises and should be market-oriented," said Wei Jianguo, vice-minister of MOFTEC. "We encourage Chinese companies to invest in the farming sector in Africa through a variety of forms, including joint ventures, joint stock companies or solely-owned companies."
African diplomats in Beijing welcomed China's decision to strengthen agricultural cooperation with Africa.
Joseph Obiang-Ndoutoume, acting head of the African diplomatic mission in China and Ambassador of Gabon to China, said the development of agriculture is an important way to relieve poverty, and most African countries still need to do more to develop their agriculture. They hope to have more cooperation with China, he said.
Emmanuel Zinyuke, counselor of the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Beijing, said African countries will open their arms to Chinese agricultural investors. He said it will strengthen the ties between Africa and China.
Some Chinese agricultural investors in Africa, who have made profits are ready to expand their businesses. The Jiangsu Provincial State Farm Corporation, for instance, is ready to expand its business from Zambia to Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana in the coming two to three years.
"Ten years of experience in Africa has made me more confident about investing in Africa," said Wu Yuchao, deputy general manager of the Jiangsu Provincial State Farm Corporation, which began to invest in Zambia in 1990. "We are now capable of expanding our business in southeast Africa, and we are confident about our success."
(Xinhua News Agency September 28, 2002)