Mother Hen

A chi­nese an­i­mal hus­bandry and breed­ing expert spends her last few years be­fore re­tire­ment im­prov­ing breed­ing tech­niques and fa­cil­i­ties in Ethiopia

ChinAfrica - - PROS AND CONS - By Li Xiaoyu

for 55-year-old Ma Lina, this year will mark both her re­turn home and her of­fi­cial re­tire­ment from her pro­fes­sion. The Chi­nese an­i­mal hus­bandry and breed­ing expert, who has spent the past five years teach­ing at the Ho­leta Agri­cul­tural Tech­ni­cal and Vo­ca­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Train­ing (ATVET) Col­lege in Ethiopia, has been a ster­ling agri­cul­tural am­bas­sador for China in Africa dur­ing this time.

Her first trip to Africa dates back to 2004, when Ma was dis­patched to Nige­ria by then Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture of China and the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Na­tions, as part of a South-south agri­cul­tural co­op­er­a­tion pro­gram. Once there, she was quick to forge a deep friend­ship with Nige­ri­ans.

Back in her home­town of Chengdu in south­west China’s Sichuan Prov­ince in early 2007, she be­gan her work of pig breed­ing, but never gave up on the idea of re­turn­ing to Africa. Seven years later, a new op­por­tu­nity opened up. With the on­go­ing eco­nomic re­struc­tur­ing in China, live­stock farm­ing was no longer a pil­lar of lo­cal agri­cul­ture in Sichuan. Ma took this op­por­tu­nity to go back to the African con­ti­nent in late 2013.

De­spite the in­evitable dis­com­forts of ev­ery­day life in a for­eign land, Ma said she has never re­gret­ted her de­ci­sion. “When I see the thirst for knowl­edge in the eyes of my stu­dents, I feel the heavy weight of re­spon­si­bil­ity on my shoul­ders. So I give ev­ery­thing I have in the hope of help­ing them pass the COC (Cen­ter of Com­pe­tence Test) as­sess­ment and in­tro­duce them to mod­ern breed­ing tech­niques from China,” she told Chi­nafrica.

But her ef­forts are not lim­ited to train­ing. As one of the first Chi­nese in­struc­tors sent to Ho­leta ATVET Col­lege, she is re­spon­si­ble for the in­tro­duc­tion and demon­stra­tion of new tech­niques not only to teach­ers and stu­dents in her col­lege, but also to farm­ers in neigh­bor­ing vil­lages.

Cross breed­ing

Chicken farm­ing is an im­por­tant eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in the Oro­mia Re­gion of Ethiopia where Ma was based. How­ever, lo­cal chicken breeds are small and slower-grow­ing. In ad­di­tion, they do not pro­duce a lot of meat. See­ing this, Ma was re­minded of a tech­nique in China, where farm­ers cross lo­cal rooster breeds with cho­sen hens to pro­duce hy­brid chick­ens. This tech­nique is

al­ready wide­spread in ru­ral ar­eas in China, and with good rea­son. Com­pared to other breeds, these hy­brid hens have more meat and grow faster, and are usu­ally ready for slaugh­ter af­ter 110 days. It is no sur­prise that they of­ten en­joy a higher sell­ing price on the mar­ket, and there­fore are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar among Chi­nese farm­ers.

Con­vinced of its ef­fec­tive­ness, Ma re­peat­edly sug­gested this tech­nique to col­lege man­age­ment, but to no avail. In fact, be­cause of tight bud­get re­straints, the col­lege was re­luc­tant to ac­cept her pro­posal - the cost of feed­ing the chick­ens alone could amount to more than 20,000 Ethiopian Birrs ($740).

To ad­dress their con­cerns, Ma mod­i­fied her project, min­i­miz­ing po­ten­tial ex­penses. The new plan was ac­cepted and im­ple­mented in 2017. At the end of the trial pe­riod, 100 hy­brid hens were bred. Al­though this tech­nique is far from be­ing a re­cent dis­cov­ery, it is the first time it was used in Oro­mia Re­gion.

Merga Na­gassa, Dean of Ho­leta ATVET Col­lege, said Chi­nese agri­cul­tural in­struc­tors acted as driv­ers of change in the coun­try. “If these demon­stra­tion projects of agri­cul­tural tech­niques can be im­ple­mented, not only will the qual­ity of the teach­ing in the col­lege im­prove, but lo­cal farm­ers will also ben­e­fit,” he said.

Fix­ing the chicken coop

Af­ter tak­ing care of the hens, Ma turned her at­ten­tion to where they were hatch­ing: the col­lege’s chicken coop, which was built more than 10 years ago. With an old roof made of rusty iron sheets, rain leaks were a ma­jor prob­lem. In ad­di­tion, it was com­mon for rats to sneak in­side the coop and at­tack chick­ens. This led to a spike in dis­ease trans­mis­sion in the hen­house, hin­der­ing breed­ing ef­forts. As a re­sult of these prob­lems, the chicken coop was aban­doned around five years ago.

As the col­lege did not have enough money to build a new one, Ma pro­posed to fix the old chicken coop.

Fol­low­ing her pro­posal, and de­spite its fi­nan­cial con­straints, the col­lege spared no ef­fort to raise funds in or­der to re­fur­bish the chicken coop. At the be­gin­ning of March, the hen­house restora­tion work, which be­came one of the eight demon­stra­tion projects of the Chi­nese agri­cul­tural mis­sion for this year, was com­pleted.

It in­cluded chang­ing the door, win­dows and roof, and also build­ing a new wall and adding fa­cil­i­ties such as roosts and nest boxes for lay­ing hens.

Ma’s work was rec­og­nized as be­ing the “first class.” In a let­ter of thanks sent in early July to Han Changfu, Chi­nese Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture and Ru­ral Af­fairs, his Ethiopian coun­ter­part Eyasu Abraha highly praised the per­for­mance of the Chi­nese mis­sion and of Ma in par­tic­u­lar.

“Avail­ing Chi­nese agri­cul­tural se­nior ex­perts to share their ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise with Ethiopian in­struc­tors has played a piv­otal role in help­ing them with ba­sic knowl­edge, skills and at­ti­tudes that in­evitably make them suc­cess­ful in their pro­fes­sional ca­reer,” wrote the min­is­ter.

Avail­ing chi­nese agri­cul­tural se­nior ex­perts to share their ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise with Ethiopian in­struc­tors has played a piv­otal role in help­ing them with ba­sic knowl­edge, skills and at­ti­tudes that in­evitably make them suc­cess­ful in their pro­fes­sional ca­reer. EYASU ABRAHA Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture and Nat­u­ral Re­source of Ethiopia

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Ma Lina gives a class at a poul­try lab

Ma Lina trains lo­cal tech­ni­cians and farm­ers

Ren­o­vat­ing the hen coop

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