Agriculture is one of the sectors where Sino-Eritrean cooperation is witnessing appreciable momentum. The account of technical agricultural support by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to Eritrea extends back to the year 2009. Ever since then, the Government of the PRC successively dispatched a total of 16 agricultural experts in five batches to this end, i.e. in August 2009, March 2012, September 2018, October 2019 and February 2022. Likewise, in January 2022, a Chinese firm, Sichuan Road and Bridge Group (SRBG), commenced a collateral initiative of sharing Chinese agricultural production technologies with Eritrea based on sponsored demonstration projects.
Mr. Ermias Asmelash, a Horticulturalist and Head of the Horticulture Development Unit in the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), is also the coordinator of the two on-going Chinese projects: The Third China-Eritrea Agricultural Technical Assistance Project (TCEATAP) and the SRBG Agricultural Demonstration Programme (SRBGADP). According to him, the common objective of both projects is exchange of agricultural production technologies with Eritrea, namely at the levels of introduction, production and value-addition of a number of agricultural crops. The projects also involve new agricultural machineries, inputs, and fruit seedlings, in addition to hybrid and open-pollinated seed varieties of vegetables, oil crops, legumes etc.
The project sites of the TCEATAP, which is due to wind up in February 2024, are in Merhano, Mendefera and Adi-Keih, while that of SRBGADP are located in Merhano and Mendefera. Mr. Ermias said that trial of soybean in the highlands, i.e. in Merhano Site, didn’t have good results last year. And he went on disclosing: “This year, however, we tried four varieties of soybean in the midland of Medefera and the results are excellent. As a result, we have a plan to distribute the seeds of the varieties in areas where the climatic setting is warm.”
Mr Ermias explained that, in line with the TCEATAP, more than 200 seedlings of two Chinese apple varieties, are being monitored and supervised almost on daily basis in Merhano and Adi-Keih sites, and thus so far performing very well. And “They have been treating them with black plastic film as mulching, and proper management activities such as pruning and other cultural practices. Moreover, there are local Anna and Golden Dorset pollinizer varities planted for comparison purpose. These too are in good condition,” he added.
Records of the TCEATAP reveal that one open pollinated Maweiba rapeseed variety was imported from China and applied in demonstration trial along with Thamarin, a local variety from the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). The harvest phase of this project component is pending. Equally noteworthy is the fact that two broad bean varieties from China have also been planted for demonstration in contrast with a local counterpart variety (local) at the Merhano and Mendefera sites. Farmer’s Day was organized on the 29th of September 2023 in Mendefera for the purpose of carrying out field demonstration on broad bean and local flax. The event entailed participation of 20 farmers, 7 experts, as well as officials from the Administration of the Southern Region; and its result was commendable. The Chinese legume varieties have shown merits on harvest rate, although more trials need to be conducted in different locations.
With regards to the SRBGADP, Mr. Ermias stated that the main areas of focus constitute introduction of horticultural crops –fruits, vegetables, oil crops, and legumes; besides organizing training on horticultural fields. Furthermore, he specified that more than 38 new varieties of apple, oil crops and vegetables have been introduced for demonstration trial through the programme.
Mr. Liu Yunmin, Senior Agronomist Researcher and Legume Expert, is the Team Leader of the Chinese experts under the TCEATAP. He has actively been participating in broad bean demonstration at the sites of Adi-Keih, Merhano, Mendefera and HalHale (NARI), besides in continuous training of farmers. Concerning his expectations from the project, he said, “We hope that agricultural activities of the project, including technical demonstration, experience- sharing, crop seeds improvement and provision of necessary materials, will have impact in promoting agricultural technology and production in Eritrea, and thereby promote the yield of the crops we are working on jointly.”
Among the Chinese experts representing the TCEATAP, Mr. Wang Li is Fruit Expert who has been fully occupied in apple tree management at the demonstration sites in Marhano and Adi-keih. He is responsible for cultivation of 210 Chinese apple trees that represent Qinyang and Yuhuazaofu varieties, in addition to 100 local apple trees of Anna and Dorsett Goldden. Mr. Wang gladly indicates that the apple trees are growing well under continued and careful management, and that some have already started to bear fruit. As an expert who has been actively involved in promoting water-saving irrigation technology of mulch-covered tree trays, he suggested that the technology is adopted in the plantations of fruit trees in areas with insufficient local water resources and low rainfall rate.
Mr. Zhou Cheng, Senior Agronomist and Oil Crop Expert, is another member of the TCEATAP’s crew who has been working on different sites with a specific focus on the rapeseed and flax demonstrational plantations. He takes proper field management measures such as application of fertilizer, weeding, thinning, transplanting, insect control etc. Thus far, the Chinese rapeseed variety is in flowering stage, while the local rapeseed variety has reached harvesting stage.
Based on Mr.Zan Wenming and Mr.Feng Jun, agriculture experts representing SRBGADP, the apple aspect of the engagement comprises planting and top-grafting demonstrations. Nine big apple trees were top-grafted successfully in Merhano site last year that Johnson and Reddew, the two Chinese apple varieties, were introduced through this means in the site. The survival rate of grafting was good, with six of the nine trees started fruiting this year. More than 5 kgs of apple could be harvested from the 6 trees so far. Fruit quality as compared to the local varieties has merits in terms of single fruit weight and sweetness. The observations to date imply that the two Chinese apple varieties can be cultivated in Eritrea.
The two experts mentioned that more than 30 vegetable varieties such as cucumber, kidney bean, lettuce, radish, celery, pea, cabbage and broccoli were also planted in Merhanosite in total area of 0.25 Ha, and that they have been harvesting on monthly basis around two tons of vegetables, which they have been sharing with local workers.
“While rapeseed and legume demonstration under SRBGADP is moving forward well, an intensive training on apple cultivation technology was organized for selected Eritrean technicians from all administrative regions of Eritrea. The program also hosted three field show activities on rapeseed and legumes. More than 120 local agriculture technicians and farmers took part on these activities,” Mr. Zan and Mr.Feng said.
Speaking on both Chinese technical assistance initiatives, Mr. Ermias Asmelashpointed out that 180 participants in total (164 farmers and 16 experts) have been trained theoretically and practically on apple, legumes and oil crops consistent with the TCEATAP, and that100 farmers as well as 20 experts obtained training on different apple, vegetables, legume and oil crop varieties through the SRBGADP. And he remarked conclusively as follows: “Projects of this type serve as good platforms for transferring the Chinese agricultural production technologies, and the issue of ensuring sustainability following their phase-out should be addressed in advance for better results.”
Public Relations Division
Ministry of Agriculture
13 November 2023