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Putting Food on the Table
Chinese agricultural experts in Eritrea help train local technicians in the drive toward food self-sufficiency
By Li Jing | VOL.11 January ·2019-01-08
Participants of 2018 Training Courses on Agricultural Technology in Eritrea (COURTESY PHOTO)

Located in the Horn of Africa, Eritrea is a country where agriculture and livestock form the backbone of the national economy. More than 80 percent of its population is employed in this sector, of which the main crops include maize, barley, sorghum, wheat, beans and groundnuts.

However, in the absence of advanced planting techniques, the shortage of agricultural products has always been and remains a major problem for Eritrea. The annual rate of food self-sufficiency in the country can be as low as 25 percent in bad years.

With the aim of addressing and solving this and other problems, the first Chinese training on agricultural technology in Eritrea was held at the National Agricultural Research Institute on November 29, 2018. A total of 51 officials, experts, researchers and technicians from five regions of Eritrea took part in the training, which was organized at the initiative of the Economic and Trade Office of Chinese Embassy in Eritrea, International Cooperation Service Center of Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture of Eritrea and other institutions.

This event was one of the practical outcomes achieved by China's high-level agricultural expert group, dispatched to Eritrea earlier this year by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China.

Li Mei came to Eritrea on September 6, 2018, as part of the mission for a 106-day cooperation program. As the leader of this agricultural group, his goal was to help the country achieve the healthy development of its agriculture by cultivating agricultural talents and providing practical advice to local government officials. Li, a 54-year-old corn expert, was originally employed by the Fruit and Vegetable Administration of Yangling District High Technology Agricultural Industry Demonstration Zone in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

Two other agricultural experts, Luo Zhongping and Li Guofeng, both 53 years old, came with him on this busy mission. All of them were already familiar with Africa. This is the third time that Li Mei has been to Eritrea and the second time for Luo. Li Guofeng was a member of the Chinese agricultural expert group based in Ethiopia.

"The reason why we came to Africa again is that we hope to use what we have learned to contribute to the development of agriculture in Eritrea and to fulfill the mission of implementing the achievements made at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in September 2018," Li Mei told ChinAfrica.

Chinese experts discuss local conditions at Southern Region, Eritrea (COURTESY PHOTO)

Research and exchanges

As soon as they arrived in Eritrea, the three experts got down to work. First of all, they needed to conduct field research. They went to Anseba, Debub and Maekel, three important agricultural regions, to conduct research in 13 collective and private farms and exchange views with local technicians. The three experts were thus able to learn in detail about the general conditions of Eritrea's agriculture industry. They then wrote a report that was submitted to the Eritrea's Ministry of Agriculture only 21 days after their arrival.

"The report focused mainly on long-term agricultural planning, legislation and farm production. In addition, we provided advice on accelerating the legislative progress, strengthening the scientific aspect of planning and increasing investment in agricultural production," said Li Mei.

The report was also approved by Heruy Asghedom, Director General of the Agricultural Promotion Department of Eritrea's Ministry of Agriculture. According to him, the report gave a good overview of Eritrea's agricultural conditions, and the advice and ideas offered are practical and will play a leading role in the development of the country's agricultural production.

Following this first step, the three Chinese experts did not waste any time and started sharing their knowledge and expertise with their local counterparts. On October 8, four seminars on plant breeding, plant cultivation and horticulture were held at the National Agricultural Research Institute. A few days later, the expert group visited the Regulatory Department of Eritrea's Ministry of Agriculture, where they took part in a seminar on the legislation of Eritrea's first national law on seeds.

"We were able to understand that local officials and technicians were very interested in the introduction and application of improved seed varieties. However, Eritrea is still lacking systems and standards for this to happen, which hinders agricultural development," said Li Mei.

During the seminar, Li Guofeng talked about China's approach to legislation on seeds and shared some advice and opinions on how to better manage seed producers. According to experts, the adoption of the law on seeds will be conducive to the introduction, production, cultivation and management of improved seed varieties, and will allow for the healthy development of this sector.

Training more talents

But the main event of the agricultural mission was to be the large-scale training on agricultural technology, the first one to be organized by the Chinese Government on Eritrean soil. Indeed, as soon as they set foot in the country, the three experts began preparing for the training. After more than 80 days of hard work and preparation, the training event officially began on November 29. According to Li Mei, the training covered a wide variety of topics, including the overall conditions of China's agricultural development, high-yield cultivation techniques for wheat, maize, oilseeds, beans and vegetables, as well as the film mulching technology.

"We hope to contribute as much as we can to developing local talents, in order to promote agricultural development in Eritrea," said Li Mei.

At the opening ceremony of the training course, Bereki Teklem, Director of the Crop and Livestock Office at the Agricultural Promotion Department, said that the scale of the training showed the extent of the friendship between the two countries. He hoped that it will give an even stronger boost to Eritrea's agricultural development.

In his speech, Wang Lipei, Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in Eritrea, presented the achievements made by the two countries as a result of their bilateral cooperation in recent years, and took great pride in praising the excellent work of the agricultural expert group.

"China has achieved remarkable results since its reform and opening up, particularly in the field of agriculture. China is now able to feed a very large population with a relatively little amount of arable land, and its successful experience deserves to be studied. I learned many applicable and practical techniques during the training," said Okbai Mebrahtom, one of the participants.

"Although this program lasted only 106 days, and despite the various difficulties that we had to overcome, I hope that our efforts can contribute to Eritrea's agricultural development and to the friendship between our two countries," concluded Li Mei.

(Comments to lijing@chinafrica.cn)

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