By Yan Yunming, People's Daily
Over an hour's drive away from Antananarivo, capital city of Madagascar, there lies Fiadanakely village, Mahitsy, a town northwest of the capital. Rice in the vast paddy fields was earring as breezes brushed against the green seedlings.
Dina, a 44-year-old rice grower in the village, was checking the growth of her crops on the ridge fields. "We will reap the rice a month later," she said, expressing her confidence in a harvest.
The rice grown by Dina was a hybrid variety tailored by Chinese experts for local farmers, which featured high productivity, high quality and multi-resistance. Dina started growing the variety in a trial planting in 2017 when Madagascar agricultural technicians and Chinese experts came to the village to promote hybrid rice technologies.
According to her, the field for testing could only harvest 300 kilograms of rice in the past, and the woman didn't have much expectation for the Chinese hybrid rice, especially in a dry year. However, she ended up reaping more than 900 kilograms of rice on the lot.
Tina could still remember the surprise even years later. After the testing, Dina planted Chinese hybrid rice on all her land.
In the beginning, Dina knew little about the growing techniques of hybrid rice. "Chinese experts taught us hand in hand to sow and transplant in a scientific way. No matter what problems we had, be it droughts, waterlogging or insect attacks, they would always offer timely help for us," Dina told People's Daily.
She said that due to the local climatic conditions, the rice yield was low in the past and the surpluses each year could only feed her family for less than six months. She still had to spend a lot of money on buying food.
"Now, our rice yield has improved from 3 tons to nearly 10 tons per hectare, and we would still have a surplus of 800 kilograms of grain at the year's end. We sell the rice at 1,300 ariary ($0.3) per kilogram, and that makes our main family income," Dina noted.
She told People's Daily that growing Chinese hybrid rice has led her family to a better life. The increased income afforded the family a newly-built two-story building with red walls and white tiles beside her rice fields.
Rice is an important source of food in Madagascar, where 44 percent of the arable land is planted with rice and 70 percent of the population is engaged in rice planting. However, rice production was low for a long time in the country and couldn't satisfy its domestic demand due to complicated climate conditions and a lack of fine varieties and core cultivation techniques.
In 2007, a China-aided demonstration center of hybrid rice was launched in Madagascar, which brought a batch of Chinese agricultural experts to the country in the Indian Ocean, including Hu Yuefang.
In more than ten years, they have visited almost all rice-growing regions in Madagascar and trained hundreds of local technicians in hybrid rice.
"When we just arrived here, rice was not available for many local residents, and they could only take cassavas, sweet potatoes and corn as substitutes. Under the assistance of Chinese experts, rice is coming to the tables of more and more local families," Hu said.
Local agricultural technician Aro is a student of Hu. As an official of Madagascar's agricultural department, he has twice joined training programs in Changsha, central China's Hunan province.
After returning to his country, Aro has been committed to offering technical support in hybrid rice planting for growers in Ambohidratrimo, a town in the central highlands of Madagascar.
"More and more farmers are starting to grow hybrid rice. In the region that I work in, there are over 200 people skilled in growing hybrid rice," Aro said, hoping that Madagascar and China could carry out closer agricultural cooperation.
"Chinese hybrid rice helps Madagascar achieve self-sufficiency in rice supply. I hope it can be promoted to more African countries and thus help relieve the issue of food security in Africa," he told People's Daily.
In 2019, the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center opened its African branch in Madagascar. It is committed to training advanced agricultural technicians and selecting hybrid rice varieties that suit the diverse climate conditions in the region.
Fanja Raharinomena, former secretary-general of the Malagasy Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, noted that hybrid rice development is under smooth progress thanks to the support of the Chinese government. She said China is a global leader in hybrid rice studies, and thanked the Chinese government's contributions to the breeding of hybrid rice in Madagascar and to the agricultural development of Africa.