by Ren Jun, Cai Guodong
NUR-SULTAN, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- Agricultural cooperation between China and Central Asian countries have maintained momentum with fruitful results despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
As China's economy is undergoing a robust recovery, the booming Chinese market has provided business opportunities for Central Asian food producers. The two sides have also made strides in agricultural technology cooperation, improving crop yield and enhancing food security amid the pandemic.
Kazakhstan camel milk powder producer Golden Camel Group, located in Turkestan Region, is one of the companies which have been allowed to export to China this year.
Yang Jie, the company's chairman, said that the COVID-19 pandemic has posed severe challenges to his business. Since January, the Kazakh side of the China-Kazakhstan Horgos International Border Cooperation Center has been closed. Fortunately, the first batch of camel milk powder arrived in Tianjin, the biggest port city in northern China, in late April via China-Europe freight trains.
According to Yang, a total of 150 tons of camel milk powder have been transported to China by freight trains over the past six months.
"Sales of our camel milk powder have been growing substantially in China, and the quality of our products has been recognized by Chinese customers," Yang said.
"The milk powder factory has been operating in full swing after a three-month suspension, bringing stable incomes to more than 2,000 local camel farmers," he added.
To overcome the difficulties created by the pandemic, the Kazakh government has pledged to expand the country's agricultural exports to China. According to its Ministry of Agriculture, Kazakhstan's agricultural exports to China reached 489,000 tons, or 196 million U.S. dollars, in the first half of this year, up by 15 percent year-on-year.
The Kazakh Ministry of Trade and Integration has expanded the presence of Kazakh companies at this year's China International Import Expo (CIIE) held in Shanghai. The ministry has also provided intensive training courses to Kazakh companies to help them position their products on the Chinese market and promote online marketing.
Kusto Agro Kazakhstan, one of the largest marbled beef producers in Kazakhstan, participated in this year's CIIE for the first time, presenting its premium marbled beef with the brand "Kazbeef."
Yernur Aydarkin, executive director of Kusto Agro Kazakhstan which made its debut at the CIIE, told Xinhua that their products have attracted a number of Chinese buyers and are expected to hit the Chinese market soon.
"We have high expectations for the expo. We are now at the stage of obtaining export license from the Chinese government," said Aydarkin.
For Uzbekistan, the most populous Central Asian country with a population of over 33 million people, agriculture cooperation with China has made new strides despite COVID-19. This year, 15 Uzbek enterprises participated in the CIIE remotely, with the majority being food producers and traders.
To promote its agricultural exports to China, the Uzbek trade authority has introduced subsidies of up to 50 percent on goods exported to China and provided financial support to companies applying for international certificates. The Embassy of Uzbekistan in China has also launched a website to facilitate communication between entrepreneurs from both countries.
DEEPENING TECHNOLOGY COOPERATION
Apart from trade, China and Central Asian countries have continued to deepen science and technology cooperation in the agriculture sector.
In Uzbekistan, China's drip irrigation technology has been widely used during this year's spring plow. Abdullah Begmatov, 54, who has more than a decade of experience in cotton cultivation, is glad to use Chinese drip irrigation technology and expects a harvest of up to 4-4.5 tons per hectare.
The Chinese technology has displayed its advantages in all respects, Begmatov said, adding that the costs have been reduced by 40-50 percent from those of conventional cotton cultivation.
"Most importantly, we saved water," he said.
In Kazakhstan, Chinese technology has helped boost crop production, and the China-Kazakhstan Agricultural Innovation Park is a case in point.
The 200-hectare park in Turgen village of Almaty Region was built in 2015 by China's Yangling agricultural hi-tech industrial demonstration zone and Kazakhstan International Integration Foundation.
According to Cui Weijun, head of the Chinese side of the park, Chinese technicians have been remotely guiding their Kazakh colleagues on the plantation of wheat, corn, rapeseed, soybeans, vegetables and seedlings amid the pandemic.
A special type of wheat developed by Chinese experts has maintained steady yields for years, with its production being over 80 percent higher than the local wheat, Cui said. "China's wheat breeding technology and vegetable cultivation management have been widely recognized by Kazakh experts."
Also in the Akdala agricultural demonstration area in the Almaty Region, Chinese and Kazakh experts have been cooperating for years on testing and promoting the Chinese submembrane drip irrigation technology as well as the biodegradable mulch films.
Submembrane drip irrigation technology applied on rice fields can reduce water consumption by 50 percent while increasing their yields. The application of biodegradable mulch films on rice and corn farms has also achieved success, with 80 percent of the films found to be dissolved within a year, said Liu Wenjiang, executive deputy director of the Central Asian Center for Ecology and Environment.
The China-Kazakhstan Agricultural Big Data Analysis Center is another project of cooperation jointly built in 2019 by the center and Saken Seifullin Kazakh Agrotechnical University, and has been running smoothly.
The two sides are now mulling building a smart farming demonstration zone, using Chinese technologies of the Internet of Things, cloud computing and remote sensing to monitor, guide and trace the growing process of plants, said Liu. Enditem