by Xinhua writers Zhou Xiaotian and Zhang Wenjing
LANZHOU, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- Weeks before flying to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, pebble-sized potatoes growing in the city of Dingxi, northwest China's Gansu Province, were picked gingerly and stored in a refrigeration house at a constant temperature.
As the departure time neared, they were packed in mesh bags and put into cardboard boxes with quarantine certificates printed on them. Soon they would give birth to more potatoes in other countries.
Dingxi is an extremely arid place that is known for its fragile ecological environment. But thanks to this, it is now one of China's main quality potato producing areas and its largest base of virus-free seed potatoes.
Known as the "grandpa of potatoes," the inedible potato mini-tuber is used to cultivate detoxicated potatoes sold in markets.
Li Jinfu started his potato-breeding business over 20 years ago. From 2009, he began to exploit overseas markets.
"I had never thought about international deals until a friend told me that there was a huge demand in the Turkish market," Li said. "It was a good opportunity for my company. So I decided to make a try."
The Turkish clients only wanted potatoes with a diameter of 18 to 22 millimeters. Li and his colleagues measured every potato of the first batch of 90,000 before sending them to Turkey.
"My Turkish partners told me that our production was as good as those from Europe," Li said. "This means we have the technical strength to compete with foreign peers. It is a big confidence boost."
In 2011, another opportunity came when Li was reviewing the growing state of his potatoes in Turkey. A Saudi Arabian company took a fancy to his potatoes when its managers were also on a business trip in Turkey. Before long 800,000 of Li's potatoes were sent to Saudi Arabia.
In the meantime, the proposal of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 facilitated his business even further.
As of this year, his company has exported a total of 10 million seed potatoes to Belt and Road countries including Egypt, the UAE and Thailand.
"We acquired import and export rights at the end of 2014, getting rid of the need of an agent and making it easier for us to export," he said.
The local economy benefitted from Li's business as well. "The company has offered over 150 jobs to local farmers, including 17 from poverty-stricken households," said Qi Yusen, a Party official in Dingxi.
Currently, Li has been busy negotiating with his partners in Iran. If everything goes well, he hopes to export 400,000 seed potatoes to Iran.