Let BRI projects take root at grass-roots level
Published: Jul 19, 2023 07:39 PM
Illustration: Tang Tengfei/Global Times

Illustration: Tang Tengfei/Global Times

Last week, I traveled to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to attend the Belt and Road Forum organized by Chinese and Laotian institutes. During the event, I listened to the discussions of experts from both sides, and one of the main concerns raised was how the promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could further benefit the local people.

The China-proposed BRI has experienced rapid development in recent years, mainly in the field of infrastructure. Projects such as the construction of railroads, highways, and power stations have been successfully implemented. Now, the focus has shifted toward leveraging this infrastructure to drive the local economy. Consequently, finding ways to help the people seize opportunities and enhance productivity has become a critical issue that needs to be addressed.

As an old Chinese saying goes, "if you want to get rich, you must build roads first." Now that the roads are in place, the exchanges of people, goods, and technology have accelerated. The local people have been exposed to the outside world and have more opportunities to improve their economic status. The next crucial step is to capitalize on these opportunities. 

This must be done by considering the local economic conditions and starting with the advantages that are specific to the region. The projects can be small in scale, but they must be precise and closely aligned with the needs and interests of the local people to have the best chance of achieving sustainable development.

During the discussion, I proposed promoting direct interaction between Chinese farmers, villages, and agricultural experts, and their counterparts in Laos. Laos is primarily an agricultural country with limited expertise in farming techniques. However, Laos possesses a unique advantage for developing agricultural cultivation and breeding due to its typical tropical monsoon climate, high temperatures throughout the year, abundant rainfall, and numerous plains and basins.

When the railroads and highways are connected, the farmers in this country will have the power to "take off on their basis." Now is the time for us to give them a hand. 

In Laos, near Vientiane, there is a China (Guangxi)-Laos experimental station for good crop varieties. The station was established 10 years ago. So far, the experimental station has developed more than 270 crop varieties, with 67 suitable for planting and promotion in Laos being identified. Additionally, it has trained over 1,000 local agricultural technicians and farmers. Many of these crop varieties have been exported, increasing the income for local farmers. 

In Bokeo Province, a Chinese agricultural company adopted the "Company + Farmer" model three years ago. It distributed 36 breeding cows free of charge to villagers with a certain tradition of raising cattle and provided guidance in breeding. As a result, the number of beef cattle has increased to 135.

Recently, the company has started buying back beef cattle from farmers and supplying the market. As a result, farmers are now earning significantly more than they used to make in a year, allowing them to invest part of the proceeds in subsequent beef cattle breeding. 

This has also provided local farmers with an alternative to poppy cultivation, which aligns with the UN's requirements for alternative cultivation in Laos. These two cases serve as a reminder that when developing the Belt and Road, we should not solely focus on large-scale manufacturing projects. Instead, we should integrate projects with the specific conditions of the localities to determine how cooperation can benefit the people.

These projects may not be grand in scale, but what is crucial is the interaction between the grassroots communities of China and Laos. If more projects like these take root at the grassroots level, they will benefit ordinary people and strengthen the relationship between the two countries. 

Therefore, we should encourage more private enterprises and individuals to collaborate with ordinary people along the Belt and Road, allowing them to share in the benefits of connectivity.  Also, private enterprises should be encouraged to expand their overseas business, actively participate in the BRI, orderly participate in overseas projects, as well as comply with local laws and regulations and fulfill their social responsibilities while going abroad. By doing so, the BRI will undoubtedly have a more solid foundation, and China's peaceful development, distinct from the West's global expansion, will be more widely recognized. 

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina