In December 2020, the central government called for speeding up rural modernization (加快农业农村现代化). As elsewhere on the planet, this means industrialization, more Science and Technology R&D, and a new role for Shenzhen in the region! (I know that’s what we care about.) Anyway, a few days ago, I visited the Huizhou City Shennong Fragrant Orchid Valley Ecological Agriculture Science and Technology Ltd. (惠州市神农兰香谷生态农业科技有限公司), which is a grape farm, where no grapes would naturally grow, let alone thrive. So what’s the connection to Shenzhen?
Two major connections: Real estate and expertise. About the real estate connection: A Dong, the young man who drove us from Shekou to Huizhou had begun his career in legal consulting in Shekou and Nanshan. However, recently (past two or three years), he realized that it was difficult to do anything in Shenzhen and so he decided to set up his firm in Huizhou. His office is located in the same Huizhou high-rise as Vanke, the Shenzhen real estate company that is building housing estates in Huizhou, but selling them in offices set up in Longgang subdistricts, such as Buji, Bantian, Henggang, and Pingshan. Spatially, the commute from western Huizhou to Longgang is comparable to the commute from Longgang to Futian and Nanshan, moreover, housing is easily 1/5 the cost of those districts. A Dong has an apartment in Huizhou, where he sleeps when in Huizhou.
About the expertise connection: Shennong executives came to the project via Shenzhen. The CEO is a Shantou native who came to Shenzhen in 1988. At the time, he was a farmer (rural hukou) who aimed to change his fate and become a city resident (urban hukou). And he did, after making his fortune in logistics and transport, he realized that he needed to contribute to society in a viable and healthy way. Hence, a return to his agrarian roots, but this time as part of a national project. Indeed, several of China’s top universities will set up research facilities at Shennong in order to research further mechanizing grape cultivation. Likewise, the Chief agricultural officer came to Shenzhen from Shandong in the late 1980s as part of the city’s early efforts in commercial agriculture, and the public relations officer came to Shekou with her parents in the early 1990s.
Images below capture something of the viticulture aesthetic in Huizhou, where the soil has been transformed through Guangdong cow dung and Mongolian sheep dung, where tents create micro-environments suitable for grapes (hot in the day, cold at night), and the shaping and management of individual bunches of grapes is still a job for seasonal laborers.