China paving the way in agricultural technology
New initiatives, farming advances and educational programs are helping to feed the developing world
That China’s population is growing exponentially is not news in global economics. With the number of people approaching 1.4 billion, the big challenge facing the country on a daily basis is the issue of how to feed all of them. China’s heavy investment in agriculture technology is enabling the supply and infrastructure to satisfy this demand.
The techniques that have been developed are of interest to developing countries around the world. The fusion of agriculture and technology matters, and China is doing its bit to lead the way.
The use of artificial intelligence is one way that farmers are streamlining operations, increasing efficiency and ensuring sustainability. Earlier this year, Alibaba announced the launch of the ET Agricultural Brain. The application, backed by Alibaba’s enormous cloud computing infrastructure, can digitally produce records of crop yields and regulate production cycles. This has helped to automate the farming process by cutting down on administrative time and boosting the quality and capacity of farming projects.
“The introduction of cloud-based agricultural intelligence is aimed at helping Chinese farmers to increase their crop yields, by, for example, helping them to potentially achieve income of $1,000 (880 euros; £790) for rice per acre of land,” said Simon Hu, the president of Alibaba Cloud.
The aim of many of these initiatives is to reduce mass-production costs, and progress is being made in innovation to ensure food security for the country and give farmers greater economic freedom. Lowering the ceiling increases profit, and with AI advancements and collaboration in other areas, this goal is becoming a reality.
According to a report released by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the key technologies, apart from AI, are used in breeding high-quality crop varieties, food processing, automated vehicles, water efficiency, pollution control, waste recycling and ecological restoration and protection. Over the next few years, the application of these technologies will greatly shape the way the country manufactures food and distributes it to the world’s largest population. The country is already well on its way, according to the CAAS report, which said these technological processes contributed to 57.5 percent of China’s agricultural growth last year.
More recent breakthroughs by Chinese scientists include high-yield rice varieties and crops that are genetically resistant to certain types of diseases and insects. Further developments in the vaccination field are also significant. For example, vaccinations protecting livestock from the H7N9 bird flu virus have proved effective.
This investment is paying off, and now agricultural expertise is a staple Chinese export in itself. In Rwanda, dozens of Chinese agricultural technology demonstration centers have popped up, with the aim of modernizing farming in developing areas of the country. Highyield crops such as mushrooms have been introduced, predominantly varieties that are hardier and can grow quickly in infertile soil. A Rwandan farmer can earn as much as $90 in just the eight days it takes the mushrooms to grow, a significant amount of money in the developing country.
Meanwhile, more traditional crops such as corn and sorghum may take up to six months to grow before harvesting, and they cannot be stored for nearly as long. Dried mushrooms can stay edible, when stored correctly, for up to a year.
According to AidData, Chinese investment in African agricultural projects has increased almost fivefold in the past 15 years, with figures reaching $300 million.
Countries such as Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya are all part of China’s agriculture and business initiative, focusing on technological and expertise development on the continent. More recently, conferences held in West African countries such as Nigeria have kicked off infrastructure plans for agricultural technicians, aiming to provide assimilated and independent agricultural technology.
Along with education and healthcare, agriculture is arguably an industry that is about more than just money. Agriculture and the art of feeding people is a central pillar of human civilization, and applying new advances in technology and expertise is vital for the food security of all growing populations and countries, whether or not they are still in development stages. China’s work in this field has proved highly successful, and as knowledge and technology improve, the gift of self-sustainability is a prized one.