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 visits the potato field in Gansu in August. CHINA DAILY

Serneels says that the next big challenge for Chinese potato farmers is balanced fertilization, which he says is a weak part of the country's potato production.

He underlines how important potato is as a crop for arid regions such as Ningxia and Gansu and mountain regions in Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces.

"If potatoes are not growing well, people go hungry."

Unlike rice, potatoes can grow on relatively arid land because they require less water and do not require flat land, as is the case with paddy fields.

Serneels says he has been amazed by the ways that Chinese eat potatoes. During his first trip to China in 1999 he met a Chinese agronomist who wrote a book on the 300 ways Chinese eat potatoes.

"They are very different to what we have in Europe," he says.

He described some Chinese potato dishes as very good, but he does not think many Europeans would appreciate french fries being dipped in sugar, as some Chinese do. And of course Belgians are proud of their famous fries, the nation's favorite snack food.

Because of his outstanding contribution Serneels was awarded the Chongqing Friendship Award by the Chongqing municipal government in 2015. He was named by the Chinese government in 2018 as one of the 40 Most Influential Foreign Experts During 40 Years of China's Reform and Opening Up.

At the Chinese embassy in Brussels in November 2022 he received the Chinese Government Friendship Award. Receiving the award with him were two of his compatriots, Johan Erauw, an emeritus professor of law at Ghent University, and Jacques Crommen, an emeritus professor at the University of Liege known for his work on traditional Chinese medicine.

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