Business - Issue 60 - Magazine | Monocle

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The sky’s the limit


China’s food-security experts are on the hunt to acquire enough arable land overseas to ensure the world’s most populous nation can feed itself in the future. Their latest target? Down Under, where Beidahuang Group, the Chinese state conglomerate, is pushing to acquire 100,000 hectares of prime farmland in Western Australia’s southern wheat belt.

The €3.2bn investment could eventually include a railway line connecting to Albany Port. If Beidahuang manages to negotiate port access with local grain handler cbh it will export directly home.

Many local farmers are speaking out against the proposed Chinese deal, arguing that Australia’s recent wheat deregulation policies have opened the floodgates to foreign investors. But Sheldon Mumby of the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA is all for the new developments. “Deregulation has allowed us to have competition in what was formerly a very closed market,” he says. “We need those investment dollars.”

Even if China’s plans are stopped, it seems it has outer space to fall back on. State media reports that Chinese scientists are devising a way of growing vegetables on other planets, albeit for a more select part of the population: a proposed astronaut colony on Mars.

Other places on China’s menu:

Brazil: In 2012, China’s Sanhe Hopeful Grain & Oil said it would invest €5.8bn in the Brazilian legume industry in return for an annual supply of six million tonnes of soybeans.

New Zealand: Chinese company Shanghai Pengxin recently bought 13 Kiwi dairy farms with plans to export milk back to China.

Africa: According to a report by Standard Chartered bank, China invested €2.7bn in African agricultural land between 2006 and 2012.

New message

Finland [TELECOMS]

Nokia’s chief executive Stephen Elop (pictured) has announced a partnership with the world’s largest operator, China Mobile. The deal will allow Nokia to sell its Lumia 920T to the firm’s 700 million mobile users. The Finnish firm has also signed a deal with Air China to allow passengers to use wireless chargers in Beijing airport’s VIP lounges.

Circuit breakers


As Japanese electronic giants struggle to balance their books, auditors have been touting said firms’ considerable fixed assets to try to make ends meet. Sharp, Panasonic and Sony all invested billions in state-of-the-art television factories but have struggled to compete against Taiwanese and Korean rivals; a surging yen hasn’t helped either. Panasonic plans to raise €1bn from property sales and one of the first under the hammer is a 24-storey central Tokyo block that houses 2,000 of its workers. Sony is also rumoured to be selling its 37-storey Madison Avenue US headquarters, an icon of 1980s excess dubbed “Chippendale” for its faux English fittings.

Cut-price chic


Missoni-designed carpets, Armani bathrooms and Artemide lighting are not furnishings you would expect from a budget hotel. However, UK firm Bloc has taken inspiration from Japanese pod hotels to develop a clever way of cutting construction costs and buoying its budget for luxury fittings: rooms are made off site then stacked like large pieces of Lego. The company is extending its original Birmingham site and is about to complete a 244-bedroom hotel at London’s Gatwick airport. “I’m working a niche that doesn’t have many players in it,” says founder Rob Morgan (pictured), who is also in negotiation for sites in Brooklyn, New York, Yale and New Haven.


Duro Olowu

Fashion-label founder


The Nigerian-born designer, a favourite of Michelle Obama, thinks the future of luxury in Africa is bright – if a little misbranded.

Is Africa an untapped luxury market at the moment?
There is a fiercely stylish generation in Africa that is being overlooked. There is a perception that the continent does not appreciate certain things. I find that baffling.

Is the branding of African luxury too clichéd?
For people on this land it’s life, not a safari. You’re never shown people in a city who may not have much but have style.

Can luxury play a part in solving Africa’s problems?
It’s not a mechanism for social change, rather a beautiful source of joy for a lot of people who’ve had hard lives. Great style isn’t based on wealth.

What global financial crisis?

Brazil and China

Wage packets in Central Asia and Latin America are getting fatter. An ILO report shows that Brazilian workers received a pay increase of 2.7 per cent in 2011; Chinese wages have tripled in the past decade.

Buoyant market


Wooden-hull motorboats were a status symbol on the lakes of Germany’s leafy capital between the world wars; their shape earned them the nickname “Berlin cigars”. Today, Klink & Krüger, a shipyard on the shores of the city’s popular Müggel lake, is restoring these rare luxury vessels for aficionados; up to 5,000 man hours are required to get each boat seaworthy. “During the Second World War, many of these jewels were sunk or removed by the Russians,” says Carsten Klink, co-owner of Klink & Krüger. As a result, even less-than-pristine examples can fetch up to €15,000. “Our staff turns every screw and sands every inch of wood by hand,” says Klink. “It’s a scene that takes joy in the craftsmanship of the boats. It’s got nothing to do with jet-set boaters on the French Riviera.” Partner Malte Krüger concurs. “Our customers are more comparable with wealthy bicycle freaks than snobby Ferrari drivers.”

An arch in every port


Sea captains around the world are struggling to find their way to shore as harbours become increasingly obscured by light pollution. After a near disaster entering Barcelona’s busy port, Spaniards Álvaro Ortiz and Leandro Martínez Zurita decided to tackle the problem themselves. The result is an illuminated arch (pictured) that marks the entry to a harbour. With two Arch Beacons already at the Caribbean entrance to the Panama canal, the team is also designing a floating installation for the Pacific entrance and another in Fortaleza, Brazil.

The sweet smell of thriftiness

Uruguay [PERFUME]

Uruguay’s president José Mujica is known for his austere lifestyle. He donates 90 per cent of his salary to charity, drives a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle and lives on a farm on the outskirts of Montevideo. Inspired, Uruguayan visual artist Martin Sastre has proposed the idea of distilling Mujica’s earthiness into a fragrance using flowers found in the president’s garden. The perfume’s first sample is called U For Uruguay and comes in a purple pyramid-shaped bottle.

Wireless routes


Long recharge times and high maintenance costs make electric buses unattractive to some commercial bus companies. However, a joint project by eight organisations, including multinational public transport firm Arriva, has overcome these limitations by manufacturing a fleet of battery-powered buses that charge wirelessly. The technology depends on a system of coils buried beneath stopping points along each route; the concept has already been trialled in the Netherlands and Italy but not on this scale. “This is the first time that induction-powered electric buses have been used on a full-blooded heavy-duty bus route,” says John Miles, who is a research professor in transitional energy strategies at the University of Cambridge and helped initiate the plan. Surprisingly, the fleet won’t make its debut in a tech hub such as Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv but in the modest English town of Milton Keynes later this year.

All sewn up

Sweden [FASHION]

Tygverket rents sewing machines by the hour at a fabric shop in Stockholm’s Södermalm district. Customers hire a machine, cutting tables and patterns from the firm and leave with a finished garment. The business is part of a DIY boom in the country. “Stores selling Swedish handicrafts are doing well,” says Andreas Sohlberg of the National Association of Swedish Handicraft Societies.

Desperately seeking sunshine


British firm Blue Energy is looking to harness the 2,377 hours of annual sunlight Ghana receives by building Africa’s largest solar-energy plant in the country’s west. The €300m project will involve 630,000 solar panels and boost the country’s power generation by 6 per cent.

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