Singapore – Philippines – Hong Kong – China – Germany – United States
Reflecting on six weeks traveling around the world with our China GFP group and the opportunity to contrast Asia, Europe and America, I am struck not by the differences between countries or continents but more importantly the similarities. I observed relationships and trust are common to success anywhere in the world and the importance innovation and adaptability has for surviving and thriving.
On the 5th of June I joined nineteen other scholars in Singapore for a brief introduction of South East Asia and it was quickly illustrated the size and impact the region has on our current and future markets. Singapore has and is positioning itself as an independent and secure hub to facilitate trade in the area. It was also the start of forming a bond with a group of diverse individuals from different backgrounds spanning different production systems and seven different countries.
Manilla and the Philippines was the breakaway, providing our smaller group of ten a brief but exciting stop, not only for the cheep beer and food but a quick insight into what much of the SE Asian region is still like, managing its way through developmental projects as it lifts population out of subsistence. Visiting the International Rice Research Institute we learnt that over four billion people every day rely on rice as a stable challenging me to consider my own lack of knowledge of such a significant part of the worlds food equation.
Hing Kong, SAR China
Hong Kong into the middle of Human Right protests gave an insightful view of the main event China, and our building anticipation continued. Our group had begun to form into a cohesive unit, efficient use of public transport, coordinated logistics, more concentrated questioning and inquiry and the ability to adapt to the challenges presented, showed we were becoming a great team holding us in good stead for the remainder of our travel.
Having visited Shanghai once previously it was exciting to see many of the groups perceptions shattered on discovery that it is a clean, organised and developed city (albeit with 26million people).
Introductions with MLA, ADM etc amongst the others from the ANZ, Cotton Inc, JWM, CBH and Syngenta over the last ten days had given the obligatory introductions so with the excitement of kids is a toyshop we rode a bullet train at 315km/ hr for Qihe in the Shandong province.
The size and scale of China became evident as we witnessed the changes moving north and inland. Highways with several lanes in either direction, multi number high rise complexes popping up and the efficiency of nearing 30,000 km of high speed rail network built in the last decade were all on show making the fact that China has used more concrete in the three years than the USA the did in the entire 20th century very real and relevant.
The realisation that there are two separate economies in China, became evident as we confronted the existing subsistence of small holdings in rural areas contrasted with enormous dairy farms and processing facilities. This acted as a metaphor illustrating difference between the large developed coastal cities and large parts of rural China growing at quite separate rates. We learned that in 40 years China has gone from 17.9% to 58.5% urbanised meaning a shift of some 640 million people to urban areas. Following a similar trend of urbanisation, another 15-20% means approximately another 220-250 million shifting to Cities in the ten years (equal to about two thirds of the current US population).
Seeing the importance of trade within China between its people and regions, and accounting for the fact China has approximately 1.4 billion people and only 7% of the worlds arable land. It became evident we need China as much as China needs the world. We encountered willing and open people, doing good business in the ways similar to all of our countries. Sharing a formal meal with a group of officials it became obvious the importance of relationships and how they are formed. Like anywhere in the world the level of that trust facilitates the exchange, however it is the cultural diversity or rituals around the way in which that trust its formed that differs between people.
European Union, Germany & Ireland
Inner Mongolia and Beijing rounded out China before jumping into Europe and the precision and efficiency of Germany. We were fortunate to see some of the contrasts between east and west as we travelled from one to the other. This allowed us to gain some insight into the challenges facing further eastern bloc countries and when overcome their potential for large scale production of food.
The role of the EU was evident as we toured Germany and Ireland but what became obvious was that successful enterprises has mastered their production in a two to three areas and continued to innovate at the edges. I was particularly impressed by the way these successful businesses demonstrated fast feedback loops created providing useful information to launch or pivot when changes arose.
Our two GFP Groups combined once again, this time in Washington DC to come face to face with the position the USA has and continues to play on a global geopolitical spectrum. It was cool to catch up with a similar Nuffield group and share our experience as it highlighted how much we have seen and how close the experience of a Nuffield GFP brought our particular group together. A welcomed rest day could have been used to recharge or some time to ourselves but we unconsciously chose to come together, spending the time riding lime scooters visiting the sites of the Capitol!
I will never understand the complexity of the US and its political system, especially in three short days but some context from meetings with Senators, lobbyists and the USDA allowed insights not many get the opportunity to have. However, I came away thinking again that USA is an enormous engine with many hierarchical layers, entrenched views and complex processes of government so that like an aircraft carrier it has very little ability to change direction and when it does only one degree at a time.
Texas, United States
If Iowa was the start of our Nuffield in March, Texas provided the perfect book end. Over six weeks we met many proud and passionate people sharing their businesses and stories. None more so than Texans which highlighted an observation that a strong sense of identity provides real power in a market. The Chinese had very a strong sense of being Chinese despite incredible diversity, the truly Irish – Irish brand capturing value for what we recognise from Ireland, and Go Texan slogan all illustrating shared history and values for those regions. My observation is that we are all individuals but get a real sense of motivation and engagement from belonging to a team and in these last two cases has translated to market positioning from combined effort.
Over six weeks visiting farm businesses, industry bodies and political institutions were heard talk all over the world of the challenges being faced with environmental regulation, the growing disconnect with agriculture, human resource limitations, no succession planning, undervalued food or lack of profitability in our farming enterprises just to name a few, which brings me back to where this started. I am struck by the similarities the agricultural world is facing.
The problems and challenges all over the world over are the same, just they are dressed in different clothes.
I have been very fortunate to contrast seven countries and three continents in six weeks with a group of intelligent agriculturalists. They have helped me to look at things from different angles and to process what we have seen, at each stage challenging me to ask a better question with new information gathered!
We could never hope to have understand the world in that time, or find the answers to questions but what I am incredibly grateful for is the knowledge, experience and insights gained to continue learning and asking better questions!
Follow Cam Henderson on Twitter @hamemurray