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Irrigation Transformation
Chinese agricultural experts share irrigation technologies with Burkina Faso farmers
By Li Jing | VOL.11 March ·2019-03-08
Liang and a local technician take measurements for the new storage dam (COURTESY PHOTO)

This Spring Festival on February 5, the most important day for the Chinese people, Liang Xiaoping, an irrigation and water conservancy expert, didn't return home for the customary family reunion; instead, he spent a memorable Spring Festival in Burkina Faso.

Liang barely has time for his family because of his work. This was the fifth time he has visited Africa to share his agricultural expertise. Previously, Liang participated in two phases of South-South cooperation project between China and Nigeria organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Later, in response to an invitation from the Nigerian Government, he went to Nigeria again to work as an international irrigation consultant. In addition, he was dispatched by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China to Uganda as a senior agricultural expert to guide local agricultural development.

Liang serves as a senior water conservancy engineer in the Tianmen Water Conservancy Bureau of Hubei Province, as well as chief engineer of the Leading Group Office of China's South-to-North Water Diversion Project. He is a veteran in the planning, design, construction and management of water conservancy projects, and is now an experienced irrigation and water conservancy expert.

On May 26, 2018, China and Burkina Faso announced the resumption of diplomatic relations. The aid project to Burkina Faso was the first agricultural assistance project after the 24-year absence of ties. The 54-year-old Liang resolutely signed up for the project and was selected as the group leader, arriving in Burkina Faso on June 30, 2018 to start his one-year tenure.

"As the first batch of agricultural experts to Burkina Faso after the renewal of our ties, I know that I have to shoulder lots of responsibilities, and that my behavior represented the national image. As the group leader, I have to be meticulously prepared for each task and lead the group to successfully finish the missions assigned by the Chinese Government," Liang told ChinAfrica.

The group consists of experts in irrigation, water conservancy, agricultural machinery and rice cultivation. Liang is primarily responsible for irrigation and water conservancy work.

Preliminary research

Located inland in West Africa, Burkina Faso is dominated by tropical savanna climate. Although the country has no desert, its vast western region is sandy. The soil is depleted, and there is scarce arable land. According to the group's research, the local annual rainfall is about 1,000 mm, with an annual evaporation of about 1,500 mm and an annual leakage of about 500 mm. It only has dry and wet seasons: The dry season lasts for most of the year, while the wet season only for three months. Therefore, the country is plagued by severe water shortage. Limited by the natural conditions, the local agriculture is dominated by rice grown on higher ground.

"During the wet season, there will only be rain every seven to 10 days, so the rice could not be effectively irrigated in its key growth stage and therefore it has a low output. In order to solve this problem, storing facilities of water must be built to change the current status of rain-dependent agriculture," Liang explained.

According to Liang's survey, the rice-growing area is basically short of irrigation and water conservancy facilities, and that some parts of the plain area utilize only irrigation systems provided by international organizations. However, since these have not been properly maintained for many years, most of the facilities have been severely damaged, and proved difficult to satisfy the requirement of designed irrigation areas.

In addition to the natural environment, agricultural machinery is not widely used, and farmers mostly adopt simple tools like hoes, sickles and sheep picks as major farm tools. The low educational level of local farmers also increases the difficulty in the promotion of new agricultural technologies.

Besides, due to law restrictions, the introduction of rice seeds is limited, and local rice is of poor quality. Plus, fertilizer and pesticide shortages also seriously affect the outputs of rice and other grains, and reduce the land use rate.

Irrigation dam

In the face of these challenges, Liang decided to start from the construction of water storage and irrigation systems.

In accordance with local topographic and geomorphic features, Liang led the expert group and local technicians to carry out preparations like surveying, measuring and designing, and finally decided to set up a storage dam at the rice-growing area of Nariou Village, Centre-ouest District. After 41 days of construction, the storage dam was officially finished on February 3. It will provide irrigation to 50 hectares of rice fields during the wet season.

"After the rain stops in the wet season, the storage dam can be used for the supplementary irrigation of rice during its blooming and filling stages, which can effectively improve the rice yields," Liang said. "The dam satisfies local residents' long-lasting needs." Gaoussou Sanou, Director of Burkina Faso Rice Center, also spoke highly of the storage dam.

In addition, Liang also led the expert group to finish the reclamation of 4 hectares of land and the building of irrigation systems in Bagrepole, Centre-est, as well as building a 2-km irrigation channel with 10 sluice gates in Bama Village, Hauts-Bassins to restore the irrigation of 1,200 hectares of rice fields.

"I have been engaged in water conservancy for 36 years, and I hope to deepen China-Burkina Faso friendship with my own expertise and help more people," said Liang.

Training more talents

The Chinese experts also conducted field technology training based on their own expertise, and expounded rice production techniques to local farmers, including rice seed production, rice field management, mechanical rice-harvesting, mechanical threshing, and water conservancy.

At the time of writing, the Chinese expert group had made 37 surveys in 11 districts of Burkina Faso, and visited 14 provinces to carry out 16 training sessions, involving 564 trainees.

Liang thinks that it is necessary to conduct technical training sessions in line with the trainees' differences in educational level, using China's successful experience in the promotion of agricultural technologies.

"For ordinary farmers, we should conduct field training through hands-on demonstration. For agricultural technicians, in addition to our explanation and demonstration, science popularization is also needed," said Liang.

(Comments to lijing@chinafrica.cn)

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