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Chinese company helps agricultural co-ope in Zimbabwe

Updated: 2014-04-14 07:12
By Zhu Lixin ( China Daily)

Chinese company sows the seeds of agricultural cooperation in Zimbabwe

When He Hongshun arrived in Zimbabwe four years ago from Hefei, Anhui province, he didn't realize that he was going to play a major role in the African nation's efforts to revitalize its agriculture sector.

He, general manager of the Zim-China Wanjin Agricultural Development Ltd project in Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, says the joint venture now has 10,000 hectares (seven fields) of land under agricultural crops.

The project, a joint venture between the Anhui Provincial State Farms Group and the Zimbabwean ministry of defense, will have 50,000 hectares of land under cultivation by 2015.

Chinese company helps agricultural co-ope in Zimbabwe

He Hongshun (right) says the project he is working on will help Zimbabwe achieve self-sufficiency in grain output. Provided to China Daily

Once considered the breadbasket of Africa, Zimbabwe has suffered recurring food shortages for more than a decade as a result of a decade-long recession that saw a sharp drop in agricultural production. That made for alarming statistics in a country where more than 70 percent of the people depend on agriculture for sustenance.

Although the Zimbabwean government had initiated a series of measures to rejuvenate its ailing agriculture sector, it got a shot in the arm after teaming up with the State-owned Chinese firm. The joint venture has through its efforts ensured that several idle and half-idle farmlands are brimming with activity again.

Chinese company helps agricultural co-ope in Zimbabwe

"Crop cultivation is in full swing in several places and most of the farms are humming with activity. The number of idle and half-idle farms is on the wane," He says.

That is in sharp contrast to a few years back, when farmers in Zimbabwe were facing uncertain prospects and had even considered giving up farming. It was a process that also saw huge swaths of farmland lying idle

APSFG, however, knew that it was not going to be an easy task. The task involved considerable investments in agricultural infrastructure and machinery, as well as getting the support from local farmers who had not been exposed to modern techniques.

"According to our estimates we envisage an approximate investment of around $240 million, including infrastructure and machinery, on the project," He says, adding that the company started to break even from last year, without disclosing earnings or investment numbers.

Pointing to the vast soybean, wheat and maize fields behind him, He says the harvested grain will be sold in the local markets so that it can benefit the local communities.

"Through this project we want to help Zimbabwe achieve self-sufficiency in grain output," says the 46-year native of Hefei, Anhui province. Before coming to Zimbabwe, He was a senior engineer with the APSFG in Hefei.

Like several other people before him, he was initially a bit apprehensive when he was posted to Africa. "There were the usual fears such as going to a new place, meeting new people, new customs etc. But I was pleasantly surprised and bowled over by the warm and friendly nature of Zimbabweans," He says.

Cheng Jun, deputy general manager of APSFG and the chairman of Wanjin, says that the Chinese company's experience over the past 50 years has helped it achieve several advances in agriculture.

According to Chen, APSFG has about 67,000 hectares of land under cultivation in Anhui province along with 15 agricultural R&D institutes. It employs around 27,100 people, of whom 2,300 are highly qualified agricultural experts and technicians.

"Anhui Provincial State Farms Group is a trusted partner with great strength", the former Zimbabwean defense minister Emmerson Mnangagwa said in 2011.

"Agricultural development requires long-term planning and sustainable practices. We do not expect our investment in Zimbabwe to yield immediate returns," Cheng says.

The real focus for the Chinese company, Cheng says, is technology transfer and skills-enhancement, factors critical to the long-term success of agriculture in Zimbabwe.

"Our primary task is to train as many local agricultural technicians as possible, because science and technology hold the key to better yields."

Chinese company helps agricultural co-ope in Zimbabwe

During the past four years, the Chinese company has sent four batches of agricultural experts and technicians to the African country, bringing the number of trained local employees to more than 1,000 person-times, a measurement that combines the number of persons and their time contribution.

The joint venture has more than 800 local employees and 16 from China. Company officials say they plan to add more agriculture-related jobs in the future.

The Chinhoyi project is unique in that it shares its modern management techniques and practices with the surrounding farm-owners. "Our task is to boost the overall crop yields with the help of technology," He says.

The Hunyani Farm, which is part of the project, is now the main agricultural teaching and practice base for the Chinhoyi University of Technology. The farm has helped the university make several advances in agricultural research.

"Improved application of proper agro-concepts has helped boost yields at the Hunyani Farm," Freedom Tsodzai, the deputy general manager of Wanjin, said in a recent interview with The Herald, a Zimbabwean news portal.

"The Wanjin project is a good role model for Zimbabwe's agriculture sector," says David Jambgwa Simbi, the vice-chancellor of CUT.

Dong Ruping, the head of the Hunyani Farm, however, says that electricity and irrigation are major concerns during dry seasons.

Dong, who was the manager of a State-owned farm in China before coming to Zimbabwe in 2012, says well-timed irrigation is necessary for the healthy growth of crops. In a lighter vein, he says that his challenge is to keep the crops away from the birds, baboons, monkeys and ants.

"China was once an agriculture-dominant country with backward production techniques. But it has now become highly modernized. We want Zimbabwe to achieve the same advances," Dong says.

"Zimbabwe is a beautiful country with a truly pleasant environment. We don't want to do any harm to the environment. So our focus is to use very little or even no chemical fertilizers at all," says Cheng from APSFG, who recommends the use of organic fertilizers.

Dong says that because the leases on most of the agricultural land run for as long as 99 years, it is important for the custodians to take proper care of them and the surrounding environment.

"Only through sustainability can we hope for long-term profits," he says.


(China Daily 04/14/2014 page16)