By Ma Wenjun
In Cameroon, there is a group of people, staying far away from hometown with the resolve to spread the natural rubber seeds of Sinochem Group far and wide. Since stepping onto the bleak land studded with wild mountains and jungles in 2008, this group of people has worked hard against all odds to conjure up a miracle – to turn the wasteland overgrown with weeds into a vast stretch of rubber plantation. The magic changes have not only amazed both local governments and residents, but added a splendid chapter to the rubber development of Sinochem Group in African continent!
Great Achievements for the Intrepid Trail Blazer
Established in 2008, SUD CAMEROUN HEVEA SA (SUDCAM for short) concluded an agreement with Cameroon government for the exploitation of a natural rubber plantation in the southern part of Cameroon. This project not only enhanced Sinochem Group’s access to African plantation resources and increased the development potentials, but brought more employment opportunities to and improved the living quality of local residents. Thus, SUDCAM was highly valued by the local government.
“No path could be found for driving amid the tough wasteland”, the old scenes still remained vivid in the memory of Wang Zhicheng, an expert of natural rubber plantation in SUBCAM. “It was not hard to imagine how difficult it was to turn the rambling wasteland into a boundless rubber plantation in streamlined rows with even interval”, recalled Wang, who has devoted half of his life to natural rubber plantation. In consideration of the actual soil status, SUDCAM, which was under the leadership of Wang, came up with a solution for synchronous progress of multiple missions, like land leveling, seedling cultivation and rubber plantation. Wang, a seasoned senior expert of Sinochem Group in rubber plantation, was the first Chinese people to introduce the globally standardized practices for natural rubber cultivation and processing into China. The diligent man never relaxes his efforts in this field. Normally, he would start his day at 5:00 a.m. in the rubber plantation, and walk across the plantation added up to miles every day. “In my opinion, car riders can not be a good problem finder, since problems are often hidden in untraversed corners”, said the man.
In spite of shortage in machines and staff, the former barren scenes were quickly taken over by lush and endless nursery garden of rubber seedlings lined in great order after more than one year of painstaking efforts by such pioneers.
Such extraordinary development speed totally astonished and convinced Cameroon government. “Only your pioneering squad from China could create such a magic – to blaze a road of hope among the bleak wilds.”
Setting up a Role Model by Culture Integration
At the very beginning, SUDCAM team was harassed by two challenges: the shortage of talents and the great cultural disparity.
Though the remote and foreign Africa remained a place where technical experts generally felt reluctant to go, SUDCAM successfully attracted a great array of technical talents from Hainan Province based on the superior reputation of Sinochem Group and its brilliant prospects in the vast continent of Africa. It is exactly these Hainan-originated talents who have played a key role in SUDCAM’s expedition into the vast land. Li Hong is one of the typical representatives of such intrepid conquerors.
Before joining Sinochem International in 2007, the 47-years-old man, with rich experience in natural rubber plantation of more than two decades, has worked in Hainan State-owned Xilian Farm. With passion to realize the Sinochem Group’s natural rubber dream in Africa, Li joined the expeditionary force to Africa in 2011 as one member in SUDCAM’s plantation team responsible for the management of rubber seedlings nursery garden. With everything starting from scratch, Li got up as early as 5 o’clock each morning to work on the rugged woodland with toil and sweat. In addition to building the nursery garden, Li overcame language barriers to mobilize local villagers to collect natural rubber seeds for the expedition team to choose. Boasting more than 90% survival rate, these meticulously selected seeds grew to be 1.18 million seedlings on the over 70 hectares of broad and flat seedling nursery garden established in more than one year.
Meanwhile, SUDCAM has paid great attention to the cultivation of local talents. A powerful local talent team consisting of backbone technicians and more than 100 technical workers has come into being one year later, thus forming a professional talents team with integrated culture led by Li. At very beginning, there was only three to five local employees serving in Li’s team, with none professional knowledge about rubber plantation. They knew nothing about how to graft bud, the uttermost important step in rubber plantation, which is critical to the survival of seedlings and growth of rubber trees, as well as the fate of Sinochem Group’s adventure in Africa. Under the support of the leadership of the plantation team, Li recruited more than 100 local villagers for technical training. Li produced hand-drawing charts to help overcome language barriers during the training, and grasped spare time to study French on his own. He taught, hand by hand, the standardized way of buds grafting to the local villagers, and made friends with them after work. Gradually, he found himself at home with this foreign land. In return, the local workers were greatly moved by the specialty, sincerity, patience and respect Li had shown to them. Thanks to his guidance, 150 local workers turned out to be versed in bud grafting within one year’s practice. Li really deserved the remarks given by Mr. Wang Zhicheng, Head of the Plantation Team – SUDCAM’s rubber plantation field could not be expanded at such an amazing speed if the nursery garden of rubber seedlings had not turned out to be such a great success!
As a truly international team with members coming from different parts of the world, SUCAM was expected to overcome various challenges including language barriers and cultural gap in this French-dominated area, which resulted in hard communication between the team and local staff. Without shining slogans but down-to-earth efforts at the very beginning, the management team of SUCAM made themselves role models for others, greatly boosting morale. When it was still dark outside, the management team of SUCAM was found busy at 5:00 a.m. in rubber fields for a new day. Shocked upon the discovery that their “Chinese bosses” started work much earlier than them, local staff felt inspired to work hard with their Chinese partners as a united team for a shared goal. This was really in great contrast to the casual working attitude widely seen in Cameroon, a country that mainly depends on the mercy of nature for living. “It is SUBCAM that ignites the passion of local staff towards work, and infuse momentums for local development”, marveled Cameroon government.
Win-win Prosperity with Local Community
In addition to confronting myriad of challenges as expeditionary adventurers in business world, Chinese enterprises are also expected to behave as responsible corporate citizens with respects and recognitions gained from hosting country and people, and foster sound social environment for their long-term and consistent overseas development.
SUDCAM has, from the very early days, endeavored to establish a harmonious tie with local communities. It has demonstrated itself as a paragon in fully respecting local culture and conducting thorough communication with local people by playing its advantages to the fullest as an international enterprise. SUDCAM has never failed to attend ceremony activities with locals in big festivals and make donations to local churches. SUDCAM also established fruit and vegetable plantation demonstration base, in which, locals were taught how to plant dry rice and take care of cultivated fruits and vegetables, greatly improving the living quality of the local residents. Besides, SUDCAM helped establish a civil rubber plantation association and foster a 150-hectare demonstration rubber plantation for local villagers, encouraging them to engage in the promising sector.
Also, SUDCAM went out its way to build decent residential housing and provide clean drinking water for its local staff, which was rarely observed among other foreign investors. In addition, infrastructure projects like primary school, middle school, hospital, church, and community activity center were also included in SUDCAM’s local rubber plantation program, as part of SUDCAM’s efforts to raise the living standard of locals. In each village across this land, Chinese SUDCAM staff members are always greeted by local villagers with delightful smiles. At the mention of these family-member-like Chinese SUDCAM staff, local villagers commented: “Our lives have been greatly improved by these Chinese friends. We want to live together with these helpful friends forever. As separate groups, we resemble one single stick of bamboo, easy to be broken up. However, united as one group, we are as firm as one handful of bamboo, invincible against any mighty challenger!”
The venture into African continent is tough yet unlonely! SUDCAM will step up its efforts to carry out more aggressive plantation programs across this land. Five years later, with the help of SUDCAM, the largest and most cutting-edge natural rubber plantation will merge in the southern part of Cameroon!