Author: Xu Wenting, Wang Bo
Translator: Laiyin Yuan
Published on: 05/03/2015
Source: Xinhua News
Original text (in Chinese): http://news.xinhuanet.com/world/2015-05/03/c_1115160424.htm
As the saying goes “Chinese people will never change their Chinese stomach”. Chinese people in Africa are always looking for better Chinese culinary ingredients, and Chinese farmers are lookign to tap into that market.
----Laiyin Yuan (Translator)
For Cao Huizhong, a Chinese vegetable grower living in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC], the first thing after getting up every morning is to take a look at his Chinese cabbages in the field. Row upon row of green leaves growing on the land, his cabbages are slightly different from their Chinese relatives: bigger leaves but thinner bodies. This is his tenth crop of experimental Chinese cabbages.
“It is not ideal, but they finally look like Chinese cabbages. We should keep improving the process,” he said.
Cao, 56, was born in Jiangsu Province, China. By chance. he heard that a fellow villager had successfully opened a very profitable farm in Angola, which inspired Cao, who has been a farmer for half of his life. He figured, “The trade ties between China and Africa have grown increasingly closer in recent years. There must be great demand for Chinese in Africa to have access to vegetables from our homeland.”
In 2014, Cao came to the DRC – a country that neighbors Angola – with eight fellow villagers. They were introduced to a local farm that was poorly managed, which they purchased and renamed as “Friendship Farm.”
Covering an area of 200 mu [Chinese unit of measurement equivalent to 0.067 hectares - editor] (approximately 0.13 square kilometers), the farm is located in Kinguli, and eastern suburb of Kinshasa, which is adjacent to the largest fishing village in the city and has abundant water and sunlight. Like many other African countries, the DRC has expensive vegetables due to production shortages, and the vegetables in supermarkets are occasionally not even fresh.Viewing this as a good business opportunity, the nine villagers decided to introduce and promote intensive Chinese cultivation methods in the area.
“When we just arrived, this was a wasteland, with weeds everywhere but not even a road,” remarked Friendship Farm manager Xu Genhong. “We built brick houses, dug wells, generated electricity, and fixed diversion channels. Reclaiming the wasteland, step by step, it was a really hard time.”
However, an even more substantial obstacle was the complete failure of their crop experiments. When first just took over the farm, many crops did not even grow due to the farmers unfamiliarity with the local climate, soil, and seeds. Their eggplants were as small as fingers.
“We were dumbfounded. Since we had already lost a lot of money, we could do nothing but bite the bullet and keep trying,” described Cao. “Our technician went back to China to select seeds, and we also consulted with Chinese experts via internet. I toiled in the field and experimented for months.”
With the Equator across its territory, the DRC is located in central-western Africa, where it is hot, humid, and rainy. Due to high sediment concentration, the soil has overly strong permeability and poor capabilities preserving fertilizer. The frequent rain tends to rot seedlings. Despite this situation, Cao Huizhong and his colleagues figured out a way to improve the soil with increasing use of organic fertilizer and clay. They also introduced and improved drip irrigation technology from China to increase the soil's water retention.
“We buried PVC pipes in every row in the field. This drip irrigation system can finish the job in 15 minutes, but it will take 20 workers half a day to do the same thing,” Xu Genhong explained.
Now, the Friendship Farm can produce 15 kinds of vegetables for a total of 1000 kg per day. Half of the vegetables used by Kinshasa’s Chinese companies and restaurants were produced here. “Mr. Cao’s farm has become the ‘vegetable basket’ for the Chinese in Kinshasa,” expressed Xu Xiaoming, a customer of theirs while making a purchase, “I am from Zhejiang Province, and I have loved green soy bean since childhood. I did not expect to find a taste of home here."
With Friendship Farm's operations on the right track, it also provided more than 30 jobs for the neighboring fishing village. Janci Magia, [transliteration from Chinese - Laiyin], a local villager, saod: “Chinese people are hard-working, and I learned a lot of growing techniques. It was hard for the villagers to find jobs in the past, but the arrival of the Chinese farm changed this situation, we are all very happy.”
Nonetheless, the owners of Friendship Farm are not resting on their laurels. They want to scale up, diversify their operations, and seek broader cooperation. To this end, Xu Genhong often goes to the DRC’s Department of Agriculture, the Chinese embassy, and other institutions. He hoped that “Maybe someday in the future we can take the Sino-D.R. Congo path towards grain cultivation and agricultural cooperation.”
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