Rice is a major food crop in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. However, rice production remains insufficient in the country due to technological and financial constraints, and food system and markets are perennially disrupted by spreading violence and COVID-19-related restrictions. Many Nigerians still suffer from hunger.
Ibrahim Argungu is one of the many farmers in the country who found it hard to earn money by growing rice despite owning many hectares of arable land.
He had learned farm management from his father, who was chief of Kebbi State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority before he retired. But after five years, harvests remain scanty on his 200-hectare family business.
In 2012, Ibrahim started to work with Wara Agricultural Park of Kebbi, a local farm which has been operated by China’s Green Agricultural Development company since 2006, to learn rice-growing techniques. He also learned various cultivation technologies from Chinese experts and technicians working in Nigeria.
For decades, China has been sending agricultural experts and technicians to the African continent.
“From there we knew the reason why we had low crop output despite all the efforts before. We need to change our mindset. We have to do proper irrigation and make good use of farm machines,” Ibrahim told Xinhua, speaking of his experiences with Wara.
The Chinese expertise that has helped locals boost rice production, is not simply “imported” from China though, but readapted to suit local natural conditions and farming traditions, Chinese experts said.
“The land, climate and rice farming methods in Nigeria are very different from those in China,” said 53-year-old farming expert Wang Xuemin, who has worked in Nigeria for 18 years.
After years of research, Chinese experts in Nigeria have managed to solve problems in land preparation, sowing, weed control and fertilizer management. An increasing number of local rice farmers nearby have started to adopt the technologies used at Wara Agricultural Park.
Wang said Nigeria has favorable natural conditions for growing rice. “With abundant rainfall and sunshine, flat and fertile land, the natural conditions in Nigeria are much better than in China,” he said.
On the other hand, China can learn from rice production in Nigeria, Wang said, adding that Nigerians prefer simply sowing seeds on fields while Chinese farmers traditionally transplant rice seedlings to paddy fields, and that Nigerians use less fertilizer and thus have a less serious pest problem.
In addition to improving farming techniques, Chinese agricultural experts also managed to select and breed a new rice variety based on local resources in 2017, which exceeds the yield of the indigenous variety by 30 percent.
New agricultural techniques developed by Chinese experts have not only helped local Nigerians achieve higher production and incomes, but also changed their lives.
Wara Agricultural Park has cultivated a community of successful farmers and agricultural technicians. “More than 1,000 local farmers and agricultural machinery management staffers have studied in our training programs, and many of them have left Wara to grow rice on their own, or get jobs at major farms in their hometowns,” Wang said.
In 2015, Ibrahim flew to Changsha, the capital of central China’s Hunan Province, to participate in a three-month training program on hybrid rice.
“It was an amazing and knowledge-honing trip to China,” said Ibrahim. “During the three-month stay in China, I saw so much, especially the advanced ideas and technology in agriculture.”
Ibrahim said Nigeria has vast arable land and an agriculture-friendly climate, but for the past years, the country has depended a lot on food imports.
“Nigeria can be self-sufficient in its food supply, and even be able to export food to other countries as long as we find the right agricultural technology,” he said.
Ushering in 2020, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari pledged to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty over the next 10 years, with agriculture a key area of development to safeguard food security and economic development.
Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu told Xinhua recently that the Nigerian government welcomes Chinese enterprises to invest in Nigeria’s agricultural sector and introduce advanced technology and methods.
In Wang’s view, mere assistance cannot solve the continent’s food security problem. “If you want to feed a hungry man you don’t give him a fish, but you have to teach him how to fish,” he said, citing a Chinese proverb.
“We have to focus on capacity-building to help them fundamentally overcome food shortages,” he said.