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Chicken farmers build nest egg
( 2003-08-12 09:21) (China Daily)

At midday, a white Iveco mini-bus enters a courtyard with rows of buildings set within a boundary wall. Nestled among the vast green cornfields and poplar woods of Pantieying village of Daxing District, a southern suburb of Beijing, the two lines of buildings stand out with their white walls and red roofs.

They are home to 30,000 chickens bred especially for restaurants offering fried tender chicken cubes in hot peppers or marinated and roasted whole chickens.

"We bought this minibus during the SARS outbreak," said Qu Shuli, the manager of the "Shuli Breeding Centre of Tongzi Chicken."

Qu has just returned from downtown Beijing, after delivering eggs to her new clients.

Her swarthy face and short haircut frame a pair of keen, intelligent eyes. Her hardwork and business acumen has helped her rise from a seamstress in a clothing factory trying to make ends meet to a successful businesswoman managing one of the largest rural chicken breeding centres in Beijing.

When Qu graduated from her local junior middle school at 17, she started working at a small clothing factory, earning barely 40 yuan (US$4.80) a month.

At 21, she married Bai Yongliang, her former classmate. She gave birth to a daughter the same year.

Qu realized she needed to change her job to improve her family life.

"I did not want to remain poor after spending my most precious seven years there," she recalled.

Qu Shuli [China Daily]
Qu quit her job to start her own business.

With her husband, she first borrowed 2,000 yuan (US$241) and bought a secondhand tractor. With the tractor, she and her husband began a shuttle service to transport villagers and passers-by between the village and the urban centre. At that time, there were very few public buses.

A year later, they bought a new truck and began sending vegetables into the city.

In 1992, when her daughter started school, Qu contracted 3.3 hectares of orchard with the village to plant pears and peaches.

She claims she earned 130,000 yuan (US$15,700) after four years' hard work in the orchard by the time the contract expired in 1996.

Qu's early successes emboldened her. She started to make bigger business plans and decided to move into chicken-breeding.

Having heard of a new breed of chicken called Tongzi which had a large market potential, Qu spent 12,000 yuan (US$1,449) on introducing 2,000 chickens from East China's Shandong Province in 1997.

"My husband said that I was crazy," Qu said.

"But when the business started to take off, he helped me the best he could."

However, Qu was bitterly disappointed two years later when she took all her business costs into account.

When she sold the chickens and looked at her earnings in September 1999, she found she had incurred a loss of more than 7,000 yuan (US$845).

"I was greatly upset by the loss," Qu said.

But she wasn't defeated, she said.

"It was my first failure in business, after all."

Qu soon worked out why she had failed. It was hard to earn money by only selling the chickens she had raised, as the market demand for chickens was unstable.

She must expand her business scope to become a chief supplier of seeded eggs and seeded chickens. While more and more local farmers and people invested money to raise Tongzi chickens, very few were able to venture into more technical parts of the business, such as breeding the seeded chickens.

As a result, Qu decided to develop her small chicken farm into a large modern breeding centre, adding hatcheries with electronic incubators and seeking her own stable outlets rather than relying on the whims of the whole sale market.

"I was really excited when I heard the government had launched a project called Yinnong Loan with the local Rural Credit Co-operative, which granted large sums of money to peasants with government providing the guarantee," Qu said.

"To expand the chicken farm, you know, needed quite a lot of money. But my husband just argued with me."

Her husband admits they fought over the issue. "She was asking for 1.9 million yuan (US$229,000). I just thought 'how on earth could we return it if we made a loss'."

Qu was determined to take the risk and got the much-needed funds when her husband gave ground in 2001.

She used the money to build 18 hen houses, a hatchery, storehouse, staff dormitory and office building on 3.3 hectares of land. She also bought the electronic incubators, engaged a technical expert to handle the machines and provide technical advice, and employed 20 women from the village.

With the support of the loan and new technology, Qu's breeding centre created its own brand - "Shuli Tongzi Chicken" - and soon grabbed a large share of the market. The breeding centre now generates a monthly profit of 65,000-70,000 yuan (US$7,831-8,434).

Qu said she will manage to pay back the loan next month and she will continue to ask for a loan from the bank to keep expanding her breeding centre.

As a result of her success, Qu was elected to attend the 11th Beijing Women Representative Conference over the weekend.

The SARS epidemic this spring, however, had a major impact on Beijing's catering industry, reducing demand for Qu's products.

"No one dared to stay outside...let alone business," Qu recalled.

She used to sell at least 17,000 seeded eggs every day before the SARS outbreak. However, during the SARS outbreak, "I had the 35,000 seeded chickens and 31,000 grown chickens but no one ever asked for them. It was like they were buried alive."

The estimated loss within the past dreadful 70 days could reach 300,000 yuan (US$36,000).

Despite all this, Qu donated 500 kilograms of eggs to the hospital of Daxing District in April, becoming the first donor in the local battle against SARS.

"I would never have had this breeding centre but for the loan from the government," she said. "How could I sit still and turn a blind eye to SARS when the city was facing such a crisis."

"Anyway, things have got much better," Qu said.

"I now have to work to develop new clients as well as regain most of my old ones by delivering eggs and chickens ourselves with our new Iveco."

Bai will share in the work.

"She is much bolder and more aggressive than I am," he said, with a smile. "So she is the manager of the centre, discussing business outside, while I am the vice-manager handling the centre's operations here."

Despite her success, Qu has had to struggle at times. She is now trying to get another loan to further develop her business and counter the slowdown caused by SARS.

Qu also has to accept the possibility that she and her husband may have to turn over the 3.3 hectares of land on which their centre is built to the village within a few years for industrial development.

"I may have to give up the centre and start a new business," she said.

Moreover, as much as Qu wants their 16-year-old child to inherit their business, it will ultimately be her daughter's choice.

"No matter what happens, I think I can face anything, like my husband said, with my boldness and aggressive mind."

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