What Africa can learn from China’s dry-alkali-tolerant wheat farming

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During his Thursday visit to the city of Cangzhou in north China’s Hebei Province, President Xi Jinping inspected a wheat field where he learned about the cultivation of crops tolerant of drought and alkalinity.

He emphasised that the cultivation and promotion of salt-tolerant crops in China’s 33 million hectare of saline-alkali land can contribute to safeguarding China’s grain reserves and food supply.

What have local experts and farmers done to make the impossible possible? What can African farmers facing similar challenges learn from Chinese practices?

Huanghua dry-alkali-tolerant wheat is a special variety developed to grow in areas with high soil salinity and alkalinity.

The Cangzhou region experiences dry and relatively less rainy winters and springs, with a high degree of soil salinisation. Alkali-resistant wheat is usually sown in October and harvested in June of the following year.

The unique planting conditions and lengthy growth cycles have contributed to the exceptional quality of Huanghua alkali-resistant wheat.

The flour produced from alkali-resistant wheat is fragrant, soft and chewy, making it highly suitable for making traditional handmade foods such as steamed buns and noodles.

Huanghua now has 20 large-scale flour mills, with an annual processing capacity of nearly 500 000 tons. The entire city has formed a “wheat industry chain” that integrates storage and transshipment, flour processing and food production.

By integrating various functions such as contract farming, storage, processing and production, the industry ensures a smooth flow of operations from cultivation to the final product. This not only promotes the local economy, but also provides a sustainable platform for the production of high-quality wheat products.

In Huanghua, efforts have been made to overcome the impact of saline-alkali soil on wheat production through the development of varieties with suitable traits.

Over the past 40 years, three independently-developed varieties have been successfully cultivated through careful selection and breeding.

Africa can learn several lessons from the cultivation and harvesting of Huanghua dry-alkali-tolerant wheat, such as:

Adaptation to local conditions: Huanghua dry-alkali-tolerant wheat has been specifically developed to thrive in areas with high soil salinity and alkalinity. African farmers can prioritise developing and adopting crop varieties that are well-suited to their local conditions, such as drought-tolerant or disease-resistant varieties.

Soil improvement: In regions where soil salinity and alkalinity are challenges, implementing soil improvement techniques can be beneficial. This may include measures such as soil leaching, the addition of organic matter, or the use of soil amendments to mitigate the adverse effects of saline and alkaline soils.

Crop diversification: Growing a diverse range of crops can help mitigate risks associated with specific environmental challenges. African farmers can consider incorporating dry-alkali-tolerant wheat or other salt-tolerant crops into their cropping systems to diversify their production and enhance resilience.

Research and development: Investing in research and development activities focused on developing and improving crop varieties suitable for local conditions is crucial. Collaboration between agricultural research institutions, universities and farmers can help accelerate the development of improved crop varieties and farming practices.

Value addition and market development: Promoting value-addition activities, such as flour processing and the production of traditional food products, can enhance the economic viability of dry-alkali-tolerant wheat cultivation. Developing local markets and exploring export opportunities for these unique crops can contribute to agricultural growth and rural development.

Knowledge sharing and capacity building: Facilitating knowledge exchange platforms, training programmes and farmer-to-farmer learning initiatives can help African farmers benefit from the experiences and best practices of successful dry-alkali-tolerant wheat cultivation regions such as Huanghua.

This article was originally published by CGTN Africa.