African students lend harvesters a hand in Hebei

Updated: Jul 6, 2023 By Zhang Yu in Shijiazhuang China Daily Print
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African students learn to harvest wheat in an experimental field in Quzhou county, Hebei province. JI YINGKAI/FOR CHINA DAILY

Participants in program help farmers solve agricultural problems

Augustine Talababi Phiri used the word "invigorating" to describe his days working together with farmers in Quzhou county in Handan, Hebei province.

"It was invigorating to work alongside dedicated farmers and witness the remarkable efficiency of modern agricultural technology," said the 28-year-old student from Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa.

Phiri has been studying for a master's degree at China Agricultural University since September and joined the Sino-Africa Science and Technology Backyard project in Quzhou two months later.

There are five other such projects with different research goals running concurrently in the county, which is about 400 kilometers southwest of Beijing.

The program was launched by the university in 2009. Students who participate conduct research in experimental fields while working with farmers and use their acquired knowledge to help locals solve agricultural problems.

On a recent Tuesday morning, Phiri woke up promptly at 5 am, excited to join local farmers in an expansive wheat field to start the harvesting process.

Carrying a sickle and other agricultural equipment, he gathered some random wheat samples from various sections of the field alongside some experienced farmers, and carefully weighed the samples to determine an average yield.

"We are conducting yield calculations, the results of which will serve as an example of the field's overall productivity potential that is achievable through mechanized harvesting methods," he said.

Majoring in Resources and Environmental Sciences and Plant Protection, Phiri has participated in or witnessed every stage of wheat production in Quzhou villages, from land preparation and the sowing of wheat seeds to crop management and harvesting.

"It has been truly fascinating to witness how local farmers embrace mechanization techniques throughout the entire process, revolutionizing their farming practices," he said, adding that it was also inspiring to observe a remarkable yield.

He saw harvesting machines swiftly sweep through wheat in the field and was impressed by their efficiency and speed.

"Within a short period, the machine completed the task, leaving behind a neatly harvested field," he recalled.

Phiri plans to graduate and return to Malawi in July 2025.

"I want to try growing wheat in my country, and make full use of what I have learned here," he said.

According to him, wheat is not grown in Malawi, and the harvesting methods of other crops predominantly rely on manual labor rather than mechanization.

He hopes that one day he will see modern agricultural technology be used in his country.

Besides Phiri, there are 11 other African students participating in the harvesting and planting work during this harvest season in Quzhou, according to Jiao Xiaoqiang, an associate professor in charge of the Sino-Africa project.

According to Jiao, the students will go back to Africa in November and put the knowledge and experience they've gained in Quzhou into practice.

"Their stays in Quzhou have been fruitful, as they have gained knowledge such as how to improve soil fertility, how to increase food production and how to improve farmers' abilities," Jiao said.



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