Profs cultivate education to fight hunger
Updated: 2011-10-14 07:54
By Li Lianxing (China Daily)
Chinese agriculture professor Wu Qinsheng (right) discusses plant worms with Omwansu Thomas Onyango, one of his students in Kenya. [Zhang Wei / China Daily]
If the first half of Professor Wu Qinsheng's teaching life was dedicated to China's agriculture research, the second half must belong to Africa and its people. Wu has been teaching and researching agriculture at the University of Egerton, Kenya, for nearly 16 years.
In 1994, the Chinese government commissioned Nanjing Agricultural University (NAU) to find two agricultural specialists to join the government education aid program.
"I didn't make the choice but was chosen by the university," Wu said. "They were choosing the best experts based on four criteria - the best knowledge, capable language ability, good physical condition and also the candidates' family situation."
Wu's two daughters were enrolled in college, he said, "so I was willing to see Africa and try to use my expertise to help the people there."
Liu Gaoqiong, also an NAU professor, joined the program in 1998 during its second term.
The weather and rainfall in most highland areas in Kenya are favorable to growing crops and horticultural plants, so Wu thought these natural advantages could lift the people out of poverty and hunger with the use of proper agricultural technologies.
Wu had already found that Egerton's teaching was more theoretical than practical. "We shifted partial focus to empirical experiments to see how far we could go," he said.
They introduced the technique of greenhouse horticulture production to the region, and a course in greenhouse management is the only one offered in Kenyan universities.
Omwansu Thomas Onyango, one of Wu's students, completed his degree thesis on local greenhouse plant growing in July and is now working for a local agricultural products company.
"They are very kind and honest," he said of the professors. "They don't say any empty words. What they taught me is very practical and helpful to my current job."
More to come
Wu and Liu are just two of more than 700 agricultural specialists that China has sent to Africa for intellectual aid. These specialists have established agricultural project centers in 14 African countries, including Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zambia, and further know-how transfers are planned.
The Chinese government attaches great importance to food security for Africa and is dedicated to long-term agricultural development there, said Lu Shaye, director-general of the Department of African Affairs in the Foreign Ministry.
"Since the 1960s, we have established more than 40 agricultural cooperation centers in more than 30 African countries, including agricultural experimental centers and farmlands. So many of them are still working today," he said.
Lu said that after the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2009, China promised to send more technology research groups, build more project centers and train more than 2,000 African specialists.
"I know a short period like three or five years is not enough for a serious project," Wu said. "Helping Africans in agriculture for us is a long-term dedication."
When the governmental program fulfilled its promise in 2002, Wu and Liu chose to stay, and they led the exchange program between NAU and Egerton. More than half of 14 department staff members at Egerton have participated in research exchange programs in China and some have earned degrees at NAU.
Joseph N. Wolulean earned his doctorate there in 2006. He said the agriculture research in China is strong, and in recent years 10 academic papers were published in top international journals, such as Plant Breeding.
Liu married a local woman and now is a father of two girls. He said he is already seen as a son of his wife's tribe, Kalengi, and as a kindhearted friend to local people.
"I frequently organize seminars to answer local farmers' production problems, and I also do some experiments for them based on their own soil condition," Liu said. "There was a sense of distance between two cultures at first. But when you understand the culture and try to integrate into it, you will find its attractiveness."
Wu was seriously injured in a car accident in 2001 and said he has been always ready to go home since the end of his first term in 1998.
"But the affection attached to the people and teaching career in Africa kept me one term after another," he said. "We are here with our agriculture knowledge to help and serve African people."