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Backyard program brings tech to the fields

Updated: Mar 20, 2024 By ZHANG YU in Shijiazhuang China Daily Print
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Chinese authorities have encouraged universities and research institutes to promote the Science and Technology Backyard program, in which teachers and students participate in agricultural production in rural areas.

The program was launched in 2009 by China Agricultural University in Quzhou county, Hebei province, with an aim to study and solve practical agricultural problems in rural areas, develop high-level agricultural talent and contribute to rural and agricultural modernization.

A policy paper issued by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council on Jan 1, also known as the No 1 Central Document, stressed the need to promote the program while encouraging experts from scientific research institutes and universities to play an active role in improving agriculture in rural areas.

"We analyzed the conditions of winter wheat seedlings for local farmers in Quzhou, and taught them the knowledge and skills needed for water and fertilizer management, and to prevent and control plant diseases, insect pests and weeds," said Feng Jiaru, a graduate student from China Agricultural University who conducted research at the Wangzhuang Science and Technology Backyard program in Quzhou.

Together with 77 other students, Feng took part in a training session earlier this month on the management of winter wheat, which is the main crop grown this time of year.

They trained more than 2,400 farmers in Quzhou, who said they greatly benefited from the students' explanations and training.

"Spring has arrived, and it's a critical time for managing wheat, as various diseases and weed infestations are starting to appear in the fields," farmer Wang Junshan said.

Wang planted 2 hectares of wheat last winter.

"The teachers and students have explained clearly how to manage each type of seedling, how to fertilize and irrigate, and how to prevent and control different diseases and pests, which has really been a great help to us," Wang said.

According to Feng, the students also introduced some new agricultural technologies to the farmers, including satellite navigation that can assist with the planting of winter wheat and summer corn, as well as drone remote sensing diagnosis that can help the farmers save money and increase production.

"For over a decade, the backyard program has pioneered a new path of deep integration between scientists and farmers, closely combining science and technology with industry," Zhong Denghua, Party chief of China Agricultural University, was quoted as saying in a report by People's Daily Overseas Edition.

Zhong added that the program has given farmers an avenue to increase their incomes and has cultivated a high-quality agricultural talent pool in rural areas.

As of March 12, more than 1,200 Science and Technology Backyard programs have been established by 74 universities and institutions nationwide, involving more than 2,700 experts and over 5,200 graduate students, according to a recent report.

The programs have introduced 284 green agricultural production technologies, with a cumulative application area of 37.7 million hectares, resulting in an accumulated increase in income and cost savings of over 70 billion yuan ($9.7 billion), the report said.

The programs are also being started abroad to share China's experiences with the world.

In April, experts and students from China Agricultural University will go to Malawi to train local farmers.

Since 2022, four Science and Technology Backyard programs have been launched by students from Malawi who have studied at the Beijing university and took part in the program in Quzhou. The four programs have facilitated training sessions for local farmers and the promotion of agricultural technologies.

"April is the time for farmers to harvest corn, so we will take this opportunity to carry out a three-day training session to consolidate existing achievements," said Gao Xinyue, a graduate student in Quzhou who will go to Malawi next month.

In 2019, China Agricultural University launched the Sino-Africa Science and Technology Backyard project in Quzhou to cultivate young technical talent for African nations, targeting the pressing production issues faced by smallholder farmers. It has nurtured 72 graduate students from over 10 African countries, according to Gao.

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