Liang Xiaoping (third right) shares his expertise on cotton growing with local farmers
As he watched the Chinese and Burkinabe flags being raised in the early morning at the Rice Culture Center in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, Liang Xiaoping was deeply moved.
"I am really proud to witness the friendship between our two countries," said Liang, adding however that this pride comes with a heavy responsibility. And for good reason: As the head of the Chinese agricultural mission to Burkina Faso, the 53-year-old agricultural expert will have to ensure that his team can meet the high expectations of their Burkinabe partners. It is a difficult challenge even for an "old Africa hand" like him, who has a rich experience of working in agricultural cooperation programs on the continent.
A hands-on team
Liang previously spent six years working in Nigeria and Uganda. He still likes to recall the years he spent in remote African villages conducting field studies. According to him, this experience has made him more flexible in adapting to the sometimes difficult working conditions on the continent.
But the real challenges are not the discomforts of everyday life, but the lack of familiarity with local conditions, he said. Indeed, Liang and three other teammates are now doing the preparatory work for more Chinese agricultural experts to join them in Burkina Faso.
China and Burkina Faso resumed diplomatic relations on May 26. Since their arrival, the lack of information on local agriculture in this West African country has complicated matters. In addition, their mission was one of urgency. The preparatory team was scheduled to land in Ouagadougou on June 30. In other words, they only had one month to prepare for their mission in this far-off country.
As soon as they arrived, the four members of the team reported to Burkina Faso's Ministry of Agriculture and Hydraulic Plannings. They immediately started to conduct field studies to gain the best possible understanding of local conditions as quickly as possible, before submitting a detailed annual work plan to China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs for approval. This hard but critical work would also facilitate the subsequent arrival of the mission's other members.
Despite heat stroke and countless mosquito bites, the team managed to visit all of the country's demonstration sites, covering more than 1,000 km by car. With the assistance of their local partners, Chinese experts also visited communities and farmers to conduct surveys on rice production, agricultural irrigation systems in use, and Burkina Faso's current level of agricultural mechanization.
Addressing local concerns
The team quickly realized that the prospects of local agricultural development in general were not so promising. The country's grain production is barely meeting domestic demand. Although farmers skillfully use the country's hilly environment for rice cultivation, productivity remains low. In addition, seasonal imbalances in rainfall do not allow steady and stable irrigation of fields. All of this results in low rice production.
This is in line with the request put forward by Burkina Faso, which want agricultural cooperation with China to start with rice farming, a predominant activity in local agriculture. In practical terms, Burkina Faso aspires to achieve better production, improvement of rice seeds and more efficient rice management, as well as to build small dams to facilitate rain-fed irrigation in the dry season. In addition, the country is also considering introducing more modern agricultural machinery, such as mechanical transplanters, threshing machines and rice mills.
To meet the request of its Burkinabe counterpart, China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs pledged to dispatch to the country seven experienced agricultural experts, who specialize in rice farming, hydro-agricultural development and farm machinery. Assisted by two translators, they will be working in three demonstration sites, namely the Bagre Agricenter in Burkina Faso's Center-East Region, Nariou Village located more than 120 km from the capital, and Bobo-Dioulasso in the Hauts-Bassins Region.
As the team's specialist in hydro-agricultural development, Liang will be based in Nariou Village. His main task is to build a reservoir dam and introduce irrigation techniques with low water consumption. Despite the numerous challenges ahead of him, he remains optimistic about future prospects.
The Chinese agricultural mission to Burkina Faso is just one of the many teams sent by the Chinese Government to Africa. In fact, agricultural cooperation between China and Africa is nothing new. In 1956, the first Chinese agricultural mission was packing its bags for the African continent. Ever since, the scale and intensity of this collaboration has never ceased growing. Following the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000, it even made a leap forward.
According to statistics released by the official website of China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, from 2012 to 2017, China has donated $80 million to South-South agricultural cooperation programs organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. These programs benefited about 1 million farmers in 28 countries around the world. The Chinese Government also shipped more than 3 million tons of grain to developing countries, helping relieve more than 100 million people from hunger.
As of the end of 2017, China had set up 27 demonstration centers for the promotion of agricultural technologies on the African continent. A total of 567 agricultural experts and 332 teachers for agricultural, technical and vocational training centers had been dispatched to 35 African countries, training nearly 50,000 local agricultural professionals on the continent.
Technologies introduced by the Chinese agriculture missions have also gained traction among government authorities. Burundian Minister of Environment, Agriculture and Livestock Déo Guide Rurema praised the Chinese missions' rice demonstration project. "This achievement will go down in Burundi's history and will prompt us to use Chinese technology to develop rice culture in Burundi," he said.
In another agricultural success story, São Tomé and Príncipe Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada recently paid tribute to the work of Chinese agricultural experts in the country, who unleashed the potential of his country's agriculture and livestock sector, and hence increase the supply of grains, vegetables and meat.
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