An hour from Zambia's capital Lusaka towards the end of a 30-km highway and an 18-km rugged untarred road, Johnken Farm stands out like an oasis amongst the wilderness of Africa.
This farm, as wild as any other surrounding unclaimed land 12 years ago, has now become a flagship and a token of the Chinese- Zambian cooperation in agriculture.
Eggs produced in Johnken Farm are sent to Lusaka and other cities every day, snatching 10 percent of the whole market of Zambia.
Together with its 1,000 head of cattle and over 2,000 pigs, the 3,500-hectare farm is the biggest one among a dozen of Chinese- owned farms in Zambia.
BUILDING UP FROM SCRATCH
Behind the success of Johnken is the middle-aged Chinese woman, Li Li, 43, who came to Zambia to support her husband, Wang Chi, former managing director of the farm, but ended to shoulder the task by herself after Wang passed away one and a half years ago.
The early days with the farm was a struggle of the couple against harsh wilderness, bad infrastructure and inexperience.
Wang used to be a university lecturer in Beijing before he arrived in Zambia with his African dream. His wife, Li, gave up her nurse career in a famous hospital in the Chinese capital of Beijing and followed Wang here.
They had to begin their work with cutting down bushes and grass along with 100-plus local employees to turn the primitive area into cultivable farmland.
Electricity was then connected to the farm and boreholes were drilled for irrigation.
"We had to start from scratch by ourselves," Li reminisced in her sitting room decorated with a verity of African wooden artwork and a shelf of agronomic books.
They came to the farm in 1994 with 200 chickens. As there was no henhouse at that time, they had to share their house with the chickens.
Li recalled that at the beginning neither she nor Wang knew the proper water temperature for unhairing until they finally looked it up shortly before they put their processed chicken on market.
To go back and forth between the farm and Lusaka on every weekday is never something enjoyable.
On that 18-km lonely road, Li was robbed three times by armed bandits, she said as if she was telling a story of others.
BIGGER AND STRONGER
With its good reputation and considerable profit return, Johnken Farm was awarded by the Zambian National Commercial Bank ( ZANACO) a loan of about 1 million U.S. dollars.
With the loan, Johnken Farm began to expand its business by planting wheat after it installed a computer-controlled center- pivot sprinkling irrigation system, which is widely used in large- scale commercial farms but the first one in a Chinese-owned farm in Zambia.
"You have to become big and strong with modern advanced technologies and have a bearing on the market. Otherwise you will risk being edged out of the market," Li said.
With that in mind, she suggests that small- and medium-sized Chinese farms in Zambia merge to challenge the competition from other large-scale farms.
Meanwhile, Li said the Chinese government should encourage state-owned conglomerates to come to Zambia to turn the vast agricultural potential into reality.
Her advice echoed with the Chinese policy of further deepening the cooperation with African countries which began to establish diplomatic ties with China 50 years ago.
China's investment in Africa has accumulated to more than 6 billion dollars with about 800 enterprises scattered in areas of agriculture, mining, construction, telecommunication, etc.
SUCCESS STORY ON PERSONAL GRIEF
The success of Johnken Farm was nevertheless shadowed by Li's personal loss. In early 2005, her husband died in a car accident en route to Lusaka and was buried in the farm that he loved so much.
The burden of heading the 200-worker state-owned farm fell all of a sudden on the shoulders of Li.
She said she would not give up as this is the life she chose as it was 12 years ago when she chose to come to Africa. Perhaps there is too much here in Zambia that she can hardly leave behind.
Outside the window of Li's house in the farm is Wang's tomb that is embraced by some tender cypress trees planted by his friends to carry their mourning. A bundle of chrysanthemum is on top of the tomb, yellow and fresh.
Li said her husband used to enjoy watching cows return home from pasture at dusk, standing just on the highland where the tomb is now.