Duan Lin manages vast swathes of farmland in central China's Henan Province. Next week, the agricultural specialist will fly to Tajikistan to inspect 1,600 hectares of farmland he runs there.
Duan comes from a family of agricultural businessmen. His grandfather, Duan Shouming, was among the first generation of farmers who came in 1956 to develop the so-called Huangfanqu, a barren and salty plain formed after massive flooding of the Yellow River in the 1930s and 1940s.
Hard work by three generations of people, including Duan's family, has turned the area into 6,700 hectares of the most fertile farmland, run by the state-owned Huangfanqu Farm. However, about 10 years ago, the farm began to find it difficult to provide for its 30,000-odd employees. "We sent people to Namibia, Uganda, Cambodia, Myanmar and other countries to seek new opportunities abroad," said Zhai Jinzhong, head of the farm's overseas investment department.
In 2013, almost at the same time when the Road and Belt Initiative was proposed by the Chinese government, the farm officially registered companies in Tajikistan and Ukraine. The farm has invested 29 million U.S. dollars in Tajikistan, where it grows wheat, corn and cotton.
Its cotton processing factory is the biggest in Central Asia, with products exported to Iran and Turkey, said Duan Lin, who manages the Tajikistan business. Production at the Tajik farm is highly mechanized.
Together with the use of advanced drip irrigation technology, quality seeds and good farming practices, the wheat output of the farm is three times over that of its local counterparts. In Ukraine, the farm entered into a joint venture with local partner and has invested 10 million dollars. The joint venture's 211 local employees grow 6,800 hectares of wheat, rye and grass, and raise 1,800 dairy cows. With improved feed formula and breeds, milk production in 2016 increased nearly 1,000 tonnes from a year ago to 3,000 tonnes.
The joint venture is already making a profit. With rising milk price and higher productivity, it expects a big profit jump in 2017, said deputy general manager Sun Zhidong.
According to China's first policy statement of the year released Sunday, which was devoted to agriculture, farmers and rural areas, the government will continue to encourage agricultural players to seek opportunities abroad.
The government will support agricultural enterprises that want to start business abroad, especially countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, the statement said. Henan, a major grain producer of China, is also a leader in overseas agriculture investment.
By the end of 2016, more than 100 Henan companies had invested 7.36 billion dollars in grain production, animal farming and farm produce processing businesses abroad. They manage 120,000 hectares of farmland and generate an annual income of over 13.6 billion dollars.