XI’AN, (Xinhua) --
What would you take with you on a trip to Africa?
Sunscreen? Or a pair of binoculars to watch wildlife? For Hai
Jiangbo, seeds and a straw hat are what he brings with every
time he traverses the continent.
Hai, 52, set out for
his 24th trip to Africa on Tuesday, shortly after the
Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC)
Over the past 15
years, Hai has been making trips like this and spending months
in the continent to offer his agricultural expertise to African
farmers. This trip, he will cover Mozambique, Egypt, Morocco and
His suitcase was
filled with seeds of a dozen varieties, teaching DVDs and
distiller’s yeast, but Hai says that by far the most important
thing is his straw hat.
“This straw hat is
my best friend when I’m in Africa,” said Hai. On his first few
trips he wore a cap but he was still badly sunburnt while
working on the test fields. To protect himself from the strong
African sun, he needed a wider brim.
Now, his hat has
become something every time he makes new African friends who he
asks to sign his hat, as a souvenir of the trip. He hopes to
cover the hat with signatures in his travels across the
Back in China, Hai
is an associate professor with Northwest Agriculture and
Forestry University (NWAFU) based in Yangling Agriculture
Hi-Tech Industrial Zone, a national-level high-tech development
zone in Shaanxi Province.
Covering an area of
135 square kilometers, Yangling has been a testing ground for
much of China’s crop varieties, agricultural technology and
management techniques, with more than 7,000 researchers. In the
past 20 years, more than 1,000 new crop varieties and
agricultural technologies were developed here.
As a leading
university in agriculture studies, NWAFU has received students
from colleges, institutes and governments in 59 countries over
the past decade, and has sent 52 teachers like Hai abroad,
particularly to Africa, teaching and offering support for
agricultural development at a local level.
At the FOCAC Beijing
Summit, China has vowed to work with Africa to formulate and
implement a plan of action to promote cooperation on
agricultural modernization, including 50 agricultural assistance
programs, and 500 senior agricultural experts to be sent to
Hai is just one of
these experts who will work with Chinese and African colleagues
to support Africa’s food security. Now, Hai’s job in Africa is
to promote Yangling’s dryland farming practices: a method of
farming in dry climates without irrigation, using
drought-resistant crops and moisture conservation techniques.
And he has fallen in
love with the continent he calls home for several months of the
“I’m half African
now,” Hai joked. He loves to eat Ugali, an African cornmeal
porridge, with his hands. But he didn’t forget to bring a luoluo,
a type of round tray for making liangpi, the famous noodle-like
Chinese rice dish.
“I make liangpi in
Africa not only to soothe my homesickness but also to test the
quality of the crops we plant there,” he said.
cooking is something that Hai considers an important part of his
job. Once, in Ethiopia, he made authentic Chinese pancakes, not
just as a tasty treat for his students but also as proof of
their farming success.
Still, the most
precious things in his luggage are the seeds. They are
disease-resistant, pest-resistant and can grow in near-infertile
soil. These are super-seeds and Hai has high hopes for
increasing the yield on more than 1,300 hectares of paddies in
At the last minute,
Hai threw some cowpea seeds into his suitcase, next to his straw
hat. He wants to test interplanting of cowpea and corn to
maximize the utility of fields.
have been growing mostly industrial crops. They are not
experienced enough with growing food, “ said Hai, “In northwest
China we have similar conditions to Africa, with the dry lean
land. So we want to share the fruits of our research with
African countries and help them feed their people.”
Hai and his team
achieved a yield of seven tonnes per hectare in the
demonstration paddies in Cameroon. Hai also taught a local
farmer how to grow watermelons. But the farmer ignored Hai’s
advice against overusing herbicide in the first year, and was
reduced to tears over the bad harvest.
Hai didn’t give up
on him. He offered the farmer more seeds and more of his time
and patience. The next year they reaped a bumper harvest and the
farmer’s crops sold like hot cakes, at 10 yuan (1.5 U.S.
dollars) a melon.
As the harvests bear
more crops, farmers can go beyond subsistence and begin to
profit on their excess yield. One of the most popular products
is rice wine. That’s why Hai has added distiller’s yeast to his
Hai’s years of
dedication to his work and his students has not gone unnoticed,
the lives he has touched are forever changed.
“Professor Hai is
not just walking around in his straw hat, planting seeds in
Africans’ fields, he’s planting hope in our hearts,” said
Efienne Niyigaba, one of Hai’s Rwandan students.