China paving the way in agri­cul­tural tech­nol­ogy

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment - Barry He The au­thor is a Lon­don-based columnist. Con­tact the writer at ed­i­[email protected]­nadai­

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.

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