Chinese agricultural experts help Tanzanian farmers increase crop yield

By Xie Wenting Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/11 20:08:39

Tang Lixia (second from right) conducts a household survey at a farmer's house in Tanzania in February 2017. Photo: Courtesy of Tang Lixia

While China is conducting the largest nationwide poverty alleviation campaign in history, some Chinese have gone much farther - by spreading the country's useful lessons thousands of kilometers away to Tanzania to help locals fight poverty.

"Africa lags behind China greatly in agriculture. China's poverty alleviation happens amid the explosive development of agriculture. So we're determined to help them with the agricultural development first," said Tang Lixia, professor at China Agricultural University (CAU).

Tang is among 10 CAU members who are working on a program to help farmers in two Tanzanian villages improve their productivity by adopting labor intensive methods. The team consists of professors and associate professors as well as PhD and ­graduate students from CAU.

According to Tang, the farmers there used to do nothing but scatter seeds during the farming season, which resulted in bad harvests. Now the CAU team is working with local officials and agricultural experts to transform the old methods and improve their farming skills.

"We provided our experiences in the 1980s to Africa. The agricultural situation in Tanzania is similar to that of our country at that time," said Tang.

"China cannot only be a capital provider in international cooperation, but more importantly, it can become a provider of developmental experience and a designer of developmental plans to other countries."

Lessons from China

The program, in collaboration with China Foundation for ­Poverty Alleviation, started in 2011. Before kicking off the program, CAU professors undertook an extensive study of poverty issues in Africa and found that backward farming practices impeded economic development.

According to Tang, Africa has a lot in common with China in agricultural production. For example, they also ­depend heavily on smallholder farmers­ and the crops are similar to those grown in China.

Unlike Western countries which have adopted large-scale, mechanized farming for long periods, China's smallholder farming proves to be more useful to African farmers as most of them can't afford to buy equipment.

Li Xiaoyun, dean of China Institute for South-South Cooperation in ­Agriculture who is also the ­director of this program, said in a seminar in August that Africa has abundant agricultural resources to feed the whole world.

However, due to disadvantages like high costs and low mechanization levels, Africa can hardly export its agricultural products. "But China can help it in this respect," Li said.

Tang revealed to the Global Times that they have a bigger plan this year - spreading their work to 10 villages in Tanzania and engaging 10,000 households.

Data from the UN Food and ­Agriculture Organization showed that Africa produces little chemical fertilizer, and its fertilizer utilization rate is low at only 56.9 kilograms per hectare, as against the average Asian rate of 246.3 kilograms.

Tang said that they don't promote the use of fertilizers in Tanzania as farmers don't have enough savings to invest in farmland.

The agricultural mechanization level in Africa is quite low, with most farming carried out manually. So the team tries to improve their farming techniques to increase productivity by teaching farmers how to scientifically ridge, sow and thin out plants.

While fully prepared for challenges, the work wasn't easy at first. The villagers were skeptical of the techniques promoted by CAU teachers, as no one wanted to try it on their farmland.

Later the teachers talked to the village head and officials, persuaded them to designate a public farmland to let several model households farm with the new techniques.

"Therefore, they didn't need to take risks. If the land yielded well, they could take all the harvest. If not, they didn't lose anything as the land is public," Tang said.

After the trial, the public farmland eventually yielded much more maize than what they grew on their own land. The results then drew more households to join in.

Tang said that the teaching of intensive-labor techniques happened not only in the farmland, but also in classrooms. During the slack season, they organized classes for villagers, most of whom were willing to attend, according to Tang.

For villagers who didn't understand English, there were local agricultural experts standing by to translate what the teachers said.

"Despite training the farmers, we also passed on the knowledge to local officials and experts so that they can carry it on after we left," she said.

Fruitful gains

Ernest Mkongo, a representative in Tanzania who participated in this program, praised the work of CAU, telling the Global Times that it has helped increase maize production 2 to 3 times with the use of labor-intensive technology.

Kongo said that their method is useful as "it is easily affordable for ordinary farmers with little support."

In the Tanzanian villages helped by the team, fundamental changes are taking place.

Several households in the villages have built new homes and some have purchased metal sheets to replace thatched roofs. A village shop owner now has to purchase goods from towns twice a month while earlier he did it once, said Tang.

"This shows the purchasing power of the villagers has vastly increased. They can now make money from farming, something they have never experienced before," Tang said.

"They used to struggle with harvesting enough to feed the family, but now they have spare maize to sell to make money."

Newspaper headline: Bigger harvest

Posted in: AFRICA

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