A sentinel for China's potatoes

An agronomist helps set up a system that protects against a devastating crop blight, and as he does so sees a country's transformation

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-16 08:41
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Francois Serneels (right), quality and environment manager of the Center for Agronomy and Agro-industry of the Province of Hainaut, or CARAH, and two other Belgian experts receive the Friendship Award of the Chinese Government from Chinese Ambassador to Belgium Cao Zhongming (second from right) at a ceremony in the Chinese embassy in Brussels on Nov 10, 2022. CHEN WEIHUA/ CHINA DAILY

Food security

"It was a question of food security for the people," Serneels says.

With a new Chinese friend, Che Xingbi, an agronomist from Chongqing, Serneels started to introduce and set up an early warning system for potato late blight. It first started on a small scale in Wuxi, an underdeveloped mountain county in Chongqing. Now the early warning system covers more than 14 Chinese provinces, the aim being to help prevent late blight and increase yield.

In having Che as a friend and colleague Serneels feels particularly blessed. They have been connecting with each other every week for more than 20 years now, he says.

He has made frequent trips to China over the past 20 years, sometimes three and four times a year, bringing with him other Belgian agronomists as well as his students.

He has been busy training local Chinese technicians on the early warning system for potato late blight as well as on the latest techniques for growing potatoes.

"We are the sparks, and the engines are the Chinese agronomists," he says of the work by Chinese technicians to popularize the technique across China.

Serneels says he is unable to speak for all of China, but in the areas he has visited he has seen great attention being paid to potato cultivation in the years since he first came to the country. Farmers are now more willing to invest in growing potatoes thanks to their newly gained ability to control potato late blight, he says.

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