Taking Root
International agricultural cooperation blooms under the Belt and Road Initiative
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2017-05-31  ·   Source: | NO. 22 JUNE 1, 2017

International students at the Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University in Shaanxi Province at a Chinese language class on April 14 (XINHUA)

Months before graduation, Nontipa Kla-ngam made her career plan—to bring rice from her motherland Thailand to China at a cheaper price.

While studying at the Northwest Agriculture and Forestry (A&F) University in Xianyang, Shaanxi Province, for almost three years, Nontipa witnessed the changes that the Belt and Road Initiative has brought to the city. In her eyes, China is increasingly becoming a land of opportunity.


Nontipa Kla-ngam, a Thai student at the Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University in Shaanxi Province, surfs the Internet at her dormitory (XINHUA)

Emerging opportunities

In 1997, an agricultural hi-tech industries demonstration zone was established in Yangling, part of Xianyang that is an hour's drive from Xi'an, capital city of Shaanxi, as a testing ground for new agricultural technology and techniques, making it the earliest demonstration area for high and new technology in agricultural enterprises in China. Many agricultural technologies, crop varieties and agricultural management modes originated here.

On April 1 this year, the Yangling Area of China (Shaanxi) Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ) was inaugurated, which is designed to serve as a major international agricultural cooperation center under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Nontipa wasted no time learning the policies of the FTZ and saw the potential of the Thai rice in Chinese market.

"The Thai rice in China's supermarkets I could find is of great quality, but more expensive than in our country," Nontipa told Beijing Review. "I think Thai rice will have more consumers in China if the price goes down."

Nontipa's graduate thesis is about an agreement made by China and Thailand in 2003 on the elimination of tariffs on vegetable and fruit products. "So far, rice is not on the duty-free list, but I believe it will definitely be in the future," Nontipa said.

The rice plan is just an initial idea, but another of her business plans—opening a Thai restaurant in Yangling—is on track.

"I have been studying here for three years and made quite a lot of friends," Nontipa said in fluent Chinese. "I plan to stay here longer."

One of her schoolmates, Kristina Vasichenko from Russia, acted even sooner. Right after the Yangling Area was established, Vasichenko started her own business there.

She is at the Northwest A&F University for her doctoral degree. She got her master's degree at Northeast Agricultural University in Heilongjiang Province and has been living in China for eight years. Her thesis is about the agricultural cooperation between China and Russia under the Belt and Road Initiative.

"I am used to life in China, and by listening to my Chinese, nobody can tell I'm a foreigner," Vasichenko told Beijing Review.

Founded in 1934, the Northwest A&F University has played an important role in facilitating China's agricultural cooperation with foreign countries. In 2007, the university admitted the first group of international students on Chinese government scholarships. "So far, we have more than 300 international students, and 85 percent are from countries along the Belt and Road," Zheng Fenli, Director of the university's International Department, told Beijing Review.

Studying here is difficult for them, according to Zheng, as they need to study both Chinese and their specialized subjects. They all graduate with fluent Chinese.

Now, the Northwest A&F University has established partnerships with 153 universities and research institutes from more than 40 countries and regions. In 2016, 59 agricultural universities and scientific research institutes from 12 countries along the Belt and Road set up an alliance on agricultural education as well as science and technology innovation, to promote cooperation and development.

He Jianqiang, a professor at the university, has seen a growing number of international students in the school in recent years. "They always have many questions, and they are very eager to learn," He told Beijing Review during a class in an apple garden, where students were taken to learn about apple plantation technologies.


A wheat field in the China-Kazakhstan Modern Agriculture Innovation Park in Almaty, Kazakhstan (COURTESY PHOTO)

Win-win cooperation

On February 22, a freight train fully loaded with wheat from Kazakhstan arrived in the Xi'an International Trade and Logistics Park, the only inland logistics center for imported grain and meat. It was the first cross-border freight train specifically for wheat.

The wheat will be ground in Xi'an and the flour put on the market for consumers in China. "Agricultural products from Central Asia such as wheat, cooking oil, cotton and honey are of great quality. For example, almost zero-polluted crops from Kazakhstan have attracted a growing number of Chinese consumers," said Jia Heyi, President of Xi'an Aiju Grain and Oil Industry Group Co. Ltd., a leading grain and oil processing company in China with a history of more than 80 years.

"Now, China consumes 26.5 million tons of oil annually, and 16.5 million tons from import," Jia told Beijing Review. "In Kazakhstan, one third of the arable land stays fallow."

In 2016 Aiju started to construct a foodstuff processing plant in Kazakhstan and put it into operation earlier this year. The company has sent Chinese managerial and technical personnel from Xi'an to Kazakhstan to train local employees.

"The area of Kazakhstan is 13 times that of Shaanxi, but its population is half that of Shaanxi," Jia said. "Our cooperation will be mutually beneficial, as we can purchase agricultural products from Kazakhstan farmers and as a result, they can expand the planting area of high-quality wheat and rapeseed."

The Belt and Road Initiative has helped connect the two countries and with more cooperation will hopefully balance market supply and demand.

"We can process 300,000 tons of canola oil in the plant in Kazakhstan," said Liu Zhiping, Aiju's Deputy General Manager. "We bring the most advanced technology there and employ local people."

Liu said the development represents a step in expanding China-Kazakhstan agricultural cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Aiju is not alone in promoting bilateral collaboration in agriculture. In May 2015, the China-Kazakhstan Modern Agriculture Innovation Park was built in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city. Covering 200 hectares, the park in the past two years has reaped rich harvests of wheat, corn, fruits and vegetables.

The No.5 winter wheat, a variety developed by Chinese scientists, was taken to the park and was first harvested in July 2016, according to Cui Weijun, Deputy General Manager of Yangling Modern Agriculture Demonstration Park Development and Construction Co. Ltd.

"The wheat yield in 2016 was 319 kg per mu (0.07 hectares), 82.28 percent higher than the average 175 kg of local varieties," Cui said. "In the following two or three years, we will bring more crop varieties to the park and choose the most suitable ones for the soil of Kazakhstan."

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

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