◎Writing丨Science and Technology Daily reporter Wang Yingxia Jie Manbin Intern Li Yuhan
◎Planning丨Zhao Yingshu, Lin Lijun, Teng Jipu
"After graduation, I will definitely return to China and promote China's ridge and furrow mulching technology throughout Kenya." Wesley, a 31-year-old African boy, crossed his fingers and looked determined.
The PhD student at Lanzhou University's School of Ecology came to China six years ago and traveled to most villages in Gansu Province with the team of Xiong Youcai, a professor at the school.
From Lanzhou, China to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, the flight time is 16 hours and the flight distance is 25,600 li. Spanning "25,000 li", Xiong Youcai's team sent China's advanced ridge and furrow mulch covering technology to Kenya.
Corn with ridge mulch technology thrives.
This year, the two sides have been in cooperation for 12 years. After nearly 30 trips to Kenya, the coated corn grew to more than 2 meters tall, more than double the local uncoated corn, greatly increased the leaf area, increased the yield by 99%-240%, and improved the water use efficiency by 127%-247%.
Putting down roots together, there are also "seeds" of talent like Wesley. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative, they brought the profound friendship of the Chinese and African people to turn the blueprint for solving food and poverty problems in the East African plateau into a reality step by step.
Kenya finally waits for China's "Ganlin"
Affected by five consecutive rainy seasons of insufficient rainfall, Kenya is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years. During the most recent rainy season, rainfall has dropped significantly in many places, with some areas being as low as 10% of the average precipitation for the same period in the past, and drought continues to spread.
Located in eastern Africa, with the equator running through the central part, Kenya covers an area of 5,826,460 square kilometers and supports a population of 47,560 people. Although the land is vast, more than 80% of the country's land area is in arid and semi-arid areas.
To make matters worse, local farmers are also adopting primitive, extensive farming practices that severely limit the ability to use rainwater. Under this production method, it is even more difficult for Kenya to meet its food needs.
In 2011, Kenya finally waited for China's "Ganlin".
In August of this year, the Ministry of Science and Technology-United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) African Water Science and Technology Cooperation Project was officially launched. Because of his mature technology and rich experience, Xiong Youcai became the project leader of "China-Kenya Dryland Water-saving Agricultural Technology Cooperation R&D and Demonstration", and led the scientific research team to the local research.
When they first arrived in Africa, they were shocked by the bare sight in the field.
At that time, Kenya had just suffered a three-year drought, and farmers had almost no crops. Xiong Youcai discovered that the development of local agriculture was severely limited by the natural environment, and the fluctuation of grain production was far greater than he imagined.
Due to the evaporation of water, locals have also tried some "soil methods", such as covering grass in fields to try to shield crops from the scorching sun, but with little success.
"The thinking is correct, the direction is off." Xiong Youcai believes that the presence of mulch is an important measure to regulate the hydrothermal balance of the soil and can maintain the accumulated temperature. To lock in water, the ground should be mulched.
Team members investigated in a test field that did not use ridge mulching technology.
In fact, the difficulties faced by Kenya's agricultural development once plagued the people in the arid and semi-arid areas of the northwest of the mainland. It was not until the 80s of the 20th century that ridge and furrow mulch film covering technology was widely promoted in the Loess Plateau, and the water efficiency was greatly improved.
This technique simply means to raise ridges in the field, cover it all with mulch, and sow crops in the trench.
"Look, has the micro-terrain of the fields with alternating ridges and ditches become a rainwater gathering ground? Overlapping large and small ridges can seep into the roots of crops by collecting small rainfall. Xiong Youcai said.
Ridge and furrow mulch film covering technology has low cost, high income, easy operation, labor saving, and most importantly, it alleviates the contradiction between the reduction of cultivated land and population growth caused by soil erosion in the dry farming area of the Loess Plateau. After more than 40 years of application on the Loess Plateau, this technology has been promoted as an important drought control measure in field crops such as maize, wheat, potatoes and other cash crops.
However, in Kenya's agricultural history, such a mature trench mulching technique is still blank.
In view of the complexity of natural and social conditions, before Xiong Youcai's team went to Africa to investigate, other teams had not found a suitable technology for the local area, and the effective production increase effect was impossible.
Drip irrigation technology in developed countries such as Japan and Germany has also been tested in Kenya, but due to various reasons such as cost, it has not been chosen by the poor people in this land.
"If the initial investment is too high, farmers will definitely not accept it, which is something that they don't have to think about." Wesley bluntly said, "Only when the cost is reduced and the technology is not complicated, it is possible to promote it." ”
This young man, who has been fond of all kinds of agricultural techniques since childhood, first came to the experimental demonstration base of Xiong Youcai's team at the Jomo Kenyatta Agricultural and Technical University, and was deeply impressed by the ridge and furrow mulch film covering technology. After graduating from undergraduate school, Wesley became a master's student recruited by Xiong Youcai in Kenya.
"Most of our country is in arid and semi-arid areas, much like the Loess Plateau in northern China." Wesley's expression became serious, "Kenya's economic situation is very bad, I must do something to help the country out of this difficult situation." ”
Mulch film should also be "followed by local customs"
Standing on the land of Kenya, you can truly appreciate how difficult it is for the people here.
Lack of water and electricity, mosquito bites, wasp infestation, poisonous snakes... The difficult conditions did not dissuade Xiong Youcai and his team. In his opinion, it is nothing to suffer from life, and the most worrying thing is whether the mulch film, which is already full of reputation in China, can continue to play a role in Africa across thousands of miles.
In Kenya in the height of summer, the heat is unbearable. The team did not dare to rest and won a sloped cultivated land as a test field. In two weeks, they pulled out grass, stones, and shrubs to level 10 acres of land for experimental research.
When everything is ready, the mulch film can "go to the ground". Everyone laid mulch film in the test field, expecting its results.
Unexpectedly, at the beginning, it encountered "dismounting".
Ultraviolet light in northwest China is already strong, but Kenya, located in the equatorial region, has better ultraviolet light and ground temperatures. Under this double erosion, the mulch film appeared partially dissolved and damaged within three days.
"People need time to adapt to a new environment, not to mention a small mulch film?" Mei Fujian, a team member and doctoral student at the School of Ecology of Lanzhou University, said in a sonorous tone, "People want to follow the customs, and mulch film also needs!" ”
After brainstorming, the team immediately came up with a good way to improve the mulch film material, including measures such as adding toner to improve its UV radiation resistance.
But challenges also followed: Kenya's economy was backward, and it was not customary to use mulch film in the past, and the team could not find a factory to produce mulch film locally. As a last resort, Xiong Youcai urgently contacted domestic manufacturers and specially ordered a batch of mulch film for high temperature, strong ultraviolet rays and other requirements.
From processing to shipping, it takes more than a month for mulch film to come to Africa again. "All I can do these days is wait. As you know, the waiting time is unusually long, and everyone is very tormented. Xiong Youcai recalled.
Finally, the long-awaited black mulch film came. Xiong Youcai led the team members to quickly lay the mulch film on the test field.
Xiong Youcai and his team members laid mulch film in the test field.
Everyone was pleased to find that black mulch film can not only effectively inhibit the growth of weeds due to its strong shading, but also reduce the temperature of the field. As a result, the "greenhouse" where pests and diseases grow no longer exists, and the farmland that has been plagued by pests and diseases has been revitalized.
Seeing that the mulch film was truly "followed by the customs", the hanging hearts were finally put down.
In addition, Xiong Youcai's team is also actively exploring crop seeds and planting models that are more suitable for taking root in Kenya.
He took his students to the fields with one mind and experimented with farming methods, variety comparisons, fertilization, and so on. In day-to-day operations, Xiong's team found that reducing ridge size and increasing planting density could significantly increase corn and wheat yields in Kenya compared to the Loess Plateau.
"We found the optimal ridge size for local corn and wheat!" Xiong Youcai's words could not hide his excitement. He told reporters that the sowing density of ridge width of 10-20 cm, ridge height of 5-10 cm, and 320 kg/ha is most suitable for wheat growth; The optimal ridge size of maize is 55-60 cm wide ridge, 5-10 cm ridge height, 25-30 cm width of small ridge, 5-10 cm ridge height, and the optimal sowing density is 69000 plants/ha.
It's not something that can be made in a day or two, a month or two. The process can be described as a twist and turn.
Since 2011, Xiong Youcai's team has established 8 field micro-rainfall technology demonstration areas in Kenya. From the beginning of the exploration to the summary of a mature set of technology, the pointer of time has pointed to 2015. During this time, they spent their days with the land, more like farmers than farmers.
"Farmers in our country usually work until after 2 p.m., but Professor Xiong can be busy from 8 am to 6 pm. Everyone is surprised how they did it, don't know tired? Wesley shrugged and laughed, and couldn't help but give a thumbs up.
Researchers "water" the desolation with perseverance
The good news came in January 2012, when the first growing season of corn ended.
At the Katumani Experimental Base in Kenya, Xiong Youcai's team cultivated corn using ridge and furrow mulching technology, each plant is more than 2 meters tall, and the fruit is also large and large; In the farmland not far away, corn using indigenous cultivation methods only grows to about 1 meter.
The strong contrast has attracted widespread attention.
After this test, government officials, agricultural technicians, farmers, and students visited the base to watch it, and nearly 20,000 people visited and learned about ridge mulching technology. After field tests from 2012 to 2014, the yield and water use efficiency of corn treated by mulching have increased several times.
Team members work in a corn test field in Kenya.
When the successful trial of ridge and furrow mulching technology in Kenya was initially popularized and applied on the Loess Plateau, there were actually no fewer problems.
The terrain of thousands of ravines, the arid climate with little rain, and the old concept all restrict the development of agriculture in the Loess Plateau. For thousands of years, the peasants here have lived a hard life relying on the sky for food, but they stubbornly adhere to the old ideas.
The barren land cannot grow roses, but the persistence of scientific and technological people is enough to "water" the desolation.
In the late 80s and early 90s of the 20th century, Professor Zhao Songling of Lanzhou University led a research team to conduct field experiments in Tangjiabao, Dingxi City, Gansu Province, and tried to spread polyethylene film into the field for the first time.
"In those days, the price of film was relatively expensive, and people used polyethylene film to preserve food." Mei Fujian said, "So when Teacher Zhao said that he would cover the film in the ground, many people thought he was crazy. ”
However, it is this small leap that has achieved remarkable results. Zhao Songling's pioneering application of polyethylene film to the field suddenly raised the grain output in Qingyang, Gansu. At the time, it caused a national sensation – a place that once depended on state relief for food was transformed into food self-sufficiency. Today, Zhangye and other places in Gansu have also become important national grain export places.
Following in the footsteps of Zhao Songling, Professor Li Fengmin, a second-generation Landa native, made optimization adjustments to the mulch film.
Li Fengmin and Yang Qifeng, then the director and researcher of the Gansu Provincial Agricultural Technology Extension Station, continued to optimize and promote the technology, and successfully developed the full-film double-ridge furrow sowing technology.
With their efforts, this technology has not only been applied to staple crops such as wheat and corn, but also widely extended to cash crops such as potatoes and strawberries, and the crop types and planting types applicable to ridge and furrow mulching technology have been greatly expanded.
Relying on the full-film double-ridge furrow sowing technology, in 2008, the total grain output of Gansu was 8.77 million tons, the technology promotion area was 2.895 million mu, and 1.761 million tons of grain was produced, which is equivalent to using 7.2% of the total sown area of grain crops in the province to produce 1/5 of the province's grain.
"Adding a layer of mulch film is like covering the farmland with a 'quilt'." Mei Fujian made a figurative analogy, "It effectively improves the livelihood of farmers, which is also an important driving force for the comprehensive promotion of this technology." ”
Li Fengmin's optimized and improved full-film double-ridge furrow sowing technology not only benefits the Chinese people, but also initially goes abroad to help African countries facing the same dilemma. However, due to various reasons, it has not been possible to continue cultivating African soil.
As the third generation of mulch film researchers at Lanzhou University, Xiong Youcai's team once again took over the "baton" and extended this high-yield and efficient dryland farming technology to more water-scarce areas to help increase food production.
This time, Xiong Youcai set his sights further afield.
He is committed to establishing agricultural cooperation with the "Belt and Road" countries, and has successively undertaken the international science and technology cooperation project of the Ministry of Science and Technology "China-United Nations rain-fed agricultural technology cooperation research and development and demonstration", and the National Natural Science Foundation of China's key international cooperation project "Efficient Utilization and Adaptive Management of Rainwater Resources in Dryland Agriculture in the East African Plateau".
As a result, there was a Chinese team and an African country for 12 years.
Green test fields on the East African plateau
The "seeds" of advanced technology can only blossom and bear fruit if they are sown in the soil.
Xiong Youcai calculated that if the ridge mulching technology is promoted throughout Kenya, only 1/3 of the arable land can be used to produce enough food to feed the entire population. By then, Kenya will have gone from being a famine country to a food-exporting country.
This is not on paper, it requires hands-on practice. But the process is not destined to be smooth sailing.
The local traditional agricultural culture is deeply rooted and the awareness of agricultural science and technology is weak, and a small experimental field alone cannot fully convince farmers to accept this technology. If you want to promote it, you must expand the scope of demonstration.
There are always people who are willing to be the first to "eat crabs".
In March 2013, in the Jiuga region of Kenya, a farmer named Timba embraced the new technology of Xiong Youcai's team. After some time, the crops in his field grew lush and plump, in contrast to the dwarf shriveled of the surrounding crops.
This is simply a "living signboard".
"I am very optimistic about the ease and low cost of Chinese technology, which allows my fields to yield high yields even in dry years." Timba hopes that the ridge mulching technology will be used by more farmers.
In order to maximize the promotion of technology, Xiong Youcai's team set up field farming schools in many parts of Kenya, invited agricultural technicians, agricultural administrators, and farm representatives from relevant units to participate in training, and compiled a "green book" - a bilingual technical manual for them to standardize the technical operation of dry farming.
Good technology wants to get out of purdah, and it is not enough to take farmers with these "few guns". Since the strength of the team is not strong enough, then strengthen the team!
Xiong Youcai and Kenya Agricultural University jointly let professors take students to visit and study in experimental demonstration fields, explain the key points of dryland agricultural technology to them, and let students "immerse" in the advantages of ridge and furrow mulch film covering technology, and consciously join the publicity team.
Xiong Youcai explains ridge mulching technology to students in a test field in Kenya.
Xiong Youcai's team also cooperated with the Kenyan agricultural technology department to train a group of technical instructors for rainfed agriculture. With the joining of local "soil experts" and "Tian Xiucai", the name of ridge and furrow mulching technology in Kenya has become more famous.
A spark can set fire to the plain. At present, Xiong Youcai's team has set up 8 technology demonstration sites throughout Kenya, with a demonstration area of 3,000 mu. Although the scale is not yet large, 5% to 10% of Kenyan farmers are aware of and are starting to use the technology.
"This is a very good opportunity for agricultural development in the arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya, and I believe we can seize this opportunity to leave practical dryland agricultural techniques behind." Dr. Patrick Gicheru, Director of the Kenya National Agricultural Research Laboratory Centre, spoke highly of the ridge mulching technology.
In Xiong Youcai's view, this means that the promotion of this technology has achieved a phased victory. What makes him even happier is that Ethiopia, Pakistan and other countries have also used ridge and furrow mulching technology. "When I saw the green test fields on the East African plateau growing gratifyingly, I felt that all the hardships I experienced were worth it." Xiong Youcai said.
Mei Fujian and local farmers pose for a group photo in Kenya's corn test field.
For this green, Xiong Youcai has another trick, that is, to train African students.
Currently, his lab has 9 African graduate students, 5 of whom are conducting technology trials and replication in Kenya. This will not only train more agronomic professionals for Africa, but also promote the application and promotion of Chinese agricultural technology in Africa.
"These African students of mine have shown good research potential in the team, and I think they are well positioned to contribute to the future development of agriculture in Africa." Xiong Youcai laughed.
Wesley was born and raised in Kenya. No one knows the difficulties and pains faced by Kenya's agricultural development better than him. "Ridge and furrow mulching technology is very important, it is used by farmers in Gansu Province every household, and Kenya urgently needs it." Wesley said.
This young African, who aspires to widely apply China's ridge mulch mulching technology in his home country, knows that scientific researchers alone are not enough, and must rely on the power of the local government.
"I want to reach out to the Kenyan government and agribusiness to embrace and promote this technology to improve farmers' living standards and ensure national food security." Wesley already had a clear plan in mind.
This is undoubtedly a huge undertaking. Particles return to the warehouse dream, a dream for a lifetime.
Tomorrow's world will usher in miracles!
All pictures in the article were provided by interviewees unless otherwise noted
Source: Science and Technology Daily