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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Farmers harvest autumn potatoes in Luliang county, Qujing city, Yunnan province. WANG YONG/FOR CHINA DAILY

As Serneels has contributed to the fight against potato late blight over the years, he has witnessed the transformation the country has gone through. Buffalos plowing farm fields, a scene that was ubiquitous when he first visited the country, is hard to find these days, he says, because these animals have been replaced by micro-tractors.

Twenty years ago, he says, lights were the only thing that consumed electricity for farmers. Now every household is equipped with many appliances, from electric fans and refrigerators to TV sets and computers, to make life more comfortable.

By contrast, in many villages that he has visited in India there has been little change over the years, he says.

"I see the same misery," he says, including people starving and some even sleeping under bridges.

"That's something you don't see in China."

Serneels gives China great credit for the way the benefits of economic growth are shared among the population, although income inequality is an issue, he says.

Most Europeans lack access to accurate information about China, he says, and European news media coverage of the country is poor.

"That is why I am very happy to take my students to the field in China because when they come back it completely changes their way of seeing China. There's been a revolution."

It is essential for young people to visit other countries to have direct exchanges with local people, he says.

He plans to bring another group of his students to China, possibly as early as April, and says he hopes to have Chinese students visiting him in Belgium soon.

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