Wang Qi was an esteemed guest at a meeting of agricultural company leaders and fund managers last week in Zhengzhou, Henan - and with good reason. Four years ago, his company invested in a Guangxi sugar plant. It's now seeing good returns as prices soar. His shrewd investment did not go unnoticed by the meeting's host, Huang Dejun. 'He is an investor with a very keen eye,' Huang said. 'As early as four years ago, he started looking at sugar plants in China. I was totally baffled by it at the time - what was so interesting about sugar, since it had such a long storage period?' Wang is a founding partner of private equity firm The Development Principles Group. One-third of the firm's investments in recent years have been in food and agriculture, he said. Private equity and venture capital firms like Wang's are showing unprecedented interest in China's agricultural sector, which formerly generated only slim profits. 'Since the beginning of this year, all investors have been talking about agriculture,' Shao Nan, executive director of Olympus Capital, said. In recent years, capital has flooded into the sector, which has benefited from preferential policies, he said. Investors include international firms Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Sequoia Capital, and domestic funds such as Hopu Investment Management and CDH Investments. Earlier this year, mainland business media reported that a multinational consortium led by Blackstone had invested US$600 million in a key logistics park for fresh produce in Shouguang, Shandong . The source was the park's then general manager Luan Yuanwei . Huang, the general manager of Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant, said his firm saw the trend and began organising forums on financing and investment in agriculture. This year's drew a bigger response than last year's. 'Last year we had more than 20 investment funds and more than 50 companies from the food and agribusiness sector. This year more than 100 funds and around 150 companies came,' he said. Investors at the event were almost unanimous: returns have proved better than the average level and the industry is entering a golden period that should last five to 10 years. 'In the past decade, our investments in this area brought a profit rate of 15 per cent,' said Lei Wei , an investment officer with the International Finance Corporation's China Resident Mission. Two factors are behind the industry's growth, he said. First, as urbanisation speeds up, more farmers are leaving their land, which is pushing ahead large-scale production. The other reason is growing demand from the middle class for safe, high-quality food.