Educating the Global Agribusiness Entrepreneur in China

Wayne Batwin is the President of PRIME Market Access International, a management consulting firm. He has more than 34 years of experience in international food and agriculture research and policy, marketing, and market development. Batwin recently retired from the Foreign Agriculture Service of USDA, where from 2006 to 2010 he was the Director of Agricultural Trade Office at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, China.He is a presenter at the upcoming Global Agribusiness Entrepreneur Symposium Series in China.

China has an incredibly rich agricultural tradition; Chinese farmers have been cultivating crops for thousands of years. However, radical changes in the last century have had a profound impact on agricultural production, and there are several constraints that the Chinese agricultural sector is facing that impacts their ability to modernize agribusiness today.

Keep in mind that China has 1.35 billion people to feed every day. Compared to the U.S., China has over 4 times the population but only 75% of our cropland.  Adding to this pressure are dietary changes (mostly towards higher meat consumption) as a result of substantial economic growth over the last two decades. Chinese consumer trends are changing among the growing middle class. Furthermore, geographical and logistical challenges abound in China. Most of the population lives along the east coast in major urban centers, while most of the agriculture is spread throughout the country. The lack of water and other agricultural inputs is also having an impact on agricultural production, especially in the northern and western regions where water is scarce.  Lastly, land usage and ownership are serious social and economic issue that needs to be reorganized before China can truly make the transition to a modern agricultural system.

The Critical Need for Education

As many of these issues pose serious obstacles towards modernization, Chinese agribusiness is still making headway. Reforms have taken place to allow some private sector entrepreneurs to create businesses that meet current demand. Inroads have been made to create larger tracks of land to grow and harvest a larger quantity of food products, and some advances have been made to transportation systems that allow products to be delivered to the consumer in a timely manner.

These changes have been accomplished by individual entrepreneurs relying on their own ingenuity and personal connections to get their products to market. But this is not enough given the kind of demand the industry is facing today. Many of these entrepreneurs work tirelessly on their own businesses and lack training in what is needed to scale their businesses within the agricultural sector specifically. They are hungry to understand what it takes to be part of an expanding industry and to grow their businesses in accordance with this increasing demand. They want to know the kinds of agricultural mechanization it will take and the kind of cooperation that goes into building a large-scale agricultural sector. These entrepreneurs are successful, but they don’t yet have access to ongoing training that is specific to agribusiness. This kind of training has not been readily available in China. Although there are exceptional universities in China, the kind of continuing executive education that’s common in western countries is very unusual in China.

According to Mr. Edward Zhu, CEO of the Chic Group, agribusiness education reform requires that applied education needs to be incorporated into higher educational systems and developed to focus on “learning from practice” with hands-on training in agronomy, agri-business management and world’s best agricultural practices. He explains, “We must advocate importing the world’s top agri-businesses, agri-universities and training institutes to speed up the learning curve.” In response, UC Davis Executive Education has taken the reigns in addressing this critical need.

UC Davis Responds

Ranked #1 in the world for teaching and research in the area of agriculture, and world renowned in the areas of management and economics, UC Davis is uniquely positioned to leverage the rich expertise from its faculty to deliver compelling executive education curriculum. Moreover, its agribusiness symposium series features industry experts with on-the-ground know-how, who can present lessons learned in the U.S. that can be applied to the Chinese market. UC Davis Executive Education successfully identified a critical business need and pooled the resources and connections to address significant knowledge gaps at the leadership level of China’s agribusinesses.

Having worked closely in the agribusiness sector in China for many years, I’m convinced there’s a real need for this type of education. We’re starting to see a lot of buzz and excitement in response to this program, and our hope is that we can have a key impact in modernizing agribusiness in China.

Interested in learning more about the Global Agribusiness Entrepreneur Symposium Series in China? Contact Wendy Beecham, Managing Director of Executive Education at UC Davis.