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Food From Science
Cover Stories Series 2012> Food From Science
UPDATED: December 31, 2011 NO. 1 JANUARY 5, 2012
Go to the Fields
China finds ways and difficulties in spreading new farming techniques in rural areas
By Tang Yuankai

GREEN CLASS: Na Weihua, a TTF member in Yongning County, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, demonstrates seedling cultivation technology to farmers on November 29, 2011 (WANG PENG)

At the end of 2011, Jiang Peize, a member of the Technical Task Force (TTF) in Xuanen County, central China's Hubei Province, visited Yuheping Village in the county and showed local farmers how to use straw to protect their tea seedlings from winter frosts.

There are more than 300 TTF members in Xuanen. They help farmers deal with practical problems in production and spread new farming techniques in order to raise agricultural output and efficiency.

The TTF system was created in Nanping City, Fujian Province, in 1999. Now, many more provinces have adopted the system, which proves successful in putting scientific and technological advances to good use in vast rural areas.

"I am just a conduit, someone who transfers new science and technology and new information to farmers," said Xing Wenzhi, a TTF member in Songyuan City, northeast China's Jilin Province.

Xing set up an experimental peanut cultivation demonstration base to offer local farmers technologies, seeds and supplies they need to plant peanuts. His efforts have helped increase local peanut production by up to 20 percent.

With a population of 2.8 million, Songyuan is the first city in Jilin Province to adopt the TTF system. From 2003, selected TTF members were sent to rural areas around the city to promote scientific and technological projects. To date, TTFs have completed more than 200 projects in the city and helped tens of thousands of rural households.

Hunan Province in central China introduced the TTF system in October 2005. So far, it has invested 6.7 billion yuan ($1.06 billion) in projects to advance agricultural science and technology and has promoted 6,384 new farming techniques and products. The Science and Technology Department of Hunan Province plans to establish 50 TTF-backed business chains in the province by 2015.

Now that the TTF has become more established, the Chinese Government is looking to expand its scope and effectiveness.

"The adoption of the TTF system is an important strategic move by the Central Government to dispel the urban-rural dichotomy and promote the industrialization, urbanization and modernization of rural areas," said Zhang Laiwu,Vice Minister of Science and Technology at a national conference in 2011.


Professor Li Xiaolin at China Agricultural University is happy to see ever larger harvests of grain and the smiling faces of the farmers he has helped.

Since 2009, Li has spent more than 280 days every year offering technical services to farmers in Quzhou County, north China's Hebei Province. According to Li, sometimes even local farmers asked him, "Why do you stay here so long?"

"We go to the countryside to help farmers. How can we go away without making some contribution," Li said.

Though having been engaged in basic research for more than 20 years, Li said that in quite a long period in the past, his field of research was theoretical and his research achievements didn't bring much practical benefits to farmers.

"I feel my work is useful after beginning to work directly with farmers," he said.

According to Li, in recent years a number of breakthroughs were made in agricultural science and technology but only a few of these breakthroughs actually led to changes in the fields."It is a great pity," he said.

Li's co-worker Rui Yukui went to a rural area in Yushu City, Jilin Province, and stayed there for almost two years. He succeeded in helping local farmers increase their corn production by 20 percent.

"Previously, we had no idea if our work was really useful or not," Rui said. "It feels good to know that our efforts are worthwhile."

"Farmers definitely need new techniques," said Zhang Zhenghe, another professor at China Agricultural University. "More than 80 percent of farmers we surveyed recently agreed that the adoption of new techniques would help them make more money."

Even so, it takes time for farmers to adopt new farming techniques on their own lands. "Normally, new techniques cost money and many farmers don't want to pay for that and would rather stick to old methods of production," Zhang said. "If we can develop some techniques that can be learnt as easily as possible, say a point-and-shoot camera, it will definitely help their popularization."

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