Editor’s note: This is the third part of a series on the food crisis in the Horn of Africa. D J Clarktoured an agricultural center in Ethiopia sponsored by the Chinese government.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Zhao Peili is young, attractive and very different from the Chinesechief engineer I had imagined I would meet as I drove the 85 kilometers out of Addis Ababa,through rolling farmland, to the new Ethiopia-China Agricultural Technology DemonstrationCenter.
Wearing a red builder’s helmet, Zhao began the tour by showing a picture of a small woodenshack. “That was my home when I first moved here two years ago. I had no power or water, wehad to start from scratch.”
Walking around just a fraction of the area being developed into the new center, I was shownmultiple plots of land with Chinese and local workers busily working on rising structures.
As part of a drive initiated by China’s Ministry of Commerce to help improve livelihoods inAfrica, 142 agricultural projects have been set up across the continent, including 14 specializedagricultural technology demonstration centers. At the China-Africa Summit in 2006, when theannouncement of the support was first made, the transfer of Chinese agricultural technology tolocal African partners, as a means to improve food security, was cited as the key reason forbuilding the projects.
“When you talk about agricultural development in general it is all about maintaining foodsecurity. Food security cannot be attained without the building of assets, without incomegeneration and without having prospects at household level and this is our target,” EdmealemShitaye, deputy director of Agricultural Extension at the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture,explained when asked why the demonstration center was requested. “We cannot adopttechnologies from the UK or US or other developed Western countries. We find it moreappropriate to look east to India and China and other Asian countries who are closer to theAfrican context.”
In February the Guangxi International Construction Engineering Company will hand over thenew research and teaching facility to the Guangxi Bagui Agricultural Science and TechnologyCompany, which has been tasked with running the center for its first three years. It will then bedonated to the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture as a gesture of goodwill from the Chinesegovernment.
“This project has three functions,” said Liang Gaosheng, senior agronomist from the Baguigroup. “The first is to conduct research under the local conditions to ensure what works inChina also is effective here. The second is to train local technicians. In three years we hope tohave worked with at least 500 local agricultural professionals, and the third is to ensure whenwe hand over the center the local partners have the capacity to continue running itsuccessfully.”
Liang, who has already been in Ethiopia for more than two years, is optimistic about thepotential of increasing yields in the country. “The weather here is very good, and there is a richvariety of plant species growing at altitudes from 4,000 meters down to sea level.”
He is however cautious about the challenge ahead. “The hard part is going to be teaching thelocal farmers who are very much stuck in traditional means of production.”
A key issue now being discussed between the Chinese and Ethiopian scientists is whether toconcentrate the research just on cereal crops or to also look to cash crops as a means ofeconomic development. While Liang is focused on boosting staple food productivity in the shortterm, Shitaye believes the long-term plan has to be broader. “Everything is related. When youtalk about transfer of technology, it’s all about food security. When you talk about incomegeneration, it’s all about food security. So promotion of agricultural interventions is all aboutfood security at the household, regional and national levels.”
Gu Xiaojie, Chinese ambassador to Ethiopia, is extremely enthusiastic about the projectparticularly given the recent drought across the Horn of Africa. Gu said he believes the projectis very timely and demonstrates a long-term commitment to food security in the area that is justas important as the emergency aid now arriving from China in Ethiopia. “We have a goal toimpart China’s advances in agricultural technology to areas in Ethiopia where food security hasbeen a long-term issue,” he said. “This includes managing the land as well as betteringirrigation and seed varieties. We are bringing over 300 experts to work at the demonstrationcenter and at the same time funding scholarships for agricultural students from Ethiopia tostudy in China.”
As I was about to leave the agricultural center, Zhao was called over to sort out a crane thathad become stuck in the thick mud around the site. Without thinking she transitioned from anarticulate soft voiced tour guide to an authoritative, confident building manager, givinginstructions to both Chinese and Ethiopian workers. Within a minute the problem was resolvedand work resumed as usual. Next February she plans to return to China in the belief that shehas done something important for the people of Ethiopia.
“This project is a gift from China to Ethiopia and demonstrates our friendship. I am hopeful it willmake Ethiopia a better place. I have made a lot of friends here and although it has been toughat times, I am proud of what I have achieved.”
For China Daily
(China Daily 10/19/2011 page10)