Researchers from a Beijing university have helped farmers in two Tanzanian villages almost triple their corn yields by applying experiences from China.
By introducing simple techniques over the past six years, yields per hectare in Peapea and Mtego Wa Simba-both part of the Morogoro region-have risen from only about 1 metric ton to as much as 3 tons, according to a team from China Agricultural University.
The pilot project, which included increasing planting intensity and manpower, has benefited about 1,000 households in an area where hunger remains a problem, said Li Xiaoyun, the program leader and dean of the college's China Belt and Road Institute for Agricultural Cooperation.
"We helped locals improve production to solve food problems using experiences from China in the 1970s and '80s, rather than more-recent experiences of sophisticated technologies and capital investment, as the former is more applicable to the local reality," he said.
Like China more than three decades ago, Tanzania lacks capital but is rich in labor resources, which Li said is an advantage when developing intensive farming.
In many parts of the country, not enough laborers are engaged in cultivating corn, while basic techniques to improve the yield are not being used, such as removing weeds, he said.
"In the pilot program, we primarily encouraged farmers to increase the density of the planting area," Li said. "Before we came here, they only grew about 22,500 plants per hectare. Now those have been increased to more than 50,000."
With increased intensity, more villagers are now engaged in labor-intensive farming, greatly increasing yields without using synthetic fertilizers, which are not widely available in Tanzania.
"Using our methods, agricultural farming has brought more employment opportunities for locals, helping them get rid of poverty," Li said.
In addition, the university team also replicated China's success in making village chiefs responsible for helping residents solve problems and increasing yields in the two Tanzanian villages.
"Each village has assigned three people, including a chief and a technician, to help locals by providing technical guidance in farming," Li said.
Zhou Shengkun, an associate professor from the university's College of Humanities and Development Studies, said nearly 80 percent of people in Africa rely on agriculture to make a living, which means increasing output is key to reducing poverty and boosting economic development.
Modern agriculture is not suitable for many areas of Tanzania, including the villages taking part in the pilot project, due to a lack of infrastructure such as basic irrigation systems, he said.
In addition, unlike other continents, the soil in Africa is not polluted by fertilizers and pesticides, so agricultural production should not be increased at the cost of environment, Zhou added.
Li said his team has visited the villages three or four times a year to guide local farmers. However, he said poor roads and irrigation systems have greatly impeded agricultural development there.
To promote the experiences gained in the pilot program, China Agricultural University joined hands in March with the Morogoro regional government and Sokoine University of Agriculture to launch a new demonstration project that will cover another 1,000 households.
"Africa has a favorable environment for agricultural production, such as fertile, unpolluted soil, and adequate sunshine and rainfall," Li said. "With proper development Africans can feed themselves and other regions."