China scientist defies terror threats to help Pakistan farmers boost rice yields

Asia World

Dai, who has been based in Pakistan since graduating from Hunan Agricultural University in 2017, said the situation has noticeably worsened since 2021, when the ceasefire agreement ended between the Pakistani Taliban and the government.

As the world’s fifth most populous nation with a vast traditional agricultural base, Pakistan is a focal point for China’s push to enhance bilateral agricultural cooperation, particularly through the promotion of hybrid rice.

A main aspect of Dai’s mission is to manage demonstration fields in rural parts of Pakistan, where simply providing high-yield seeds to farmers would be insufficient.

“These fields showcase, under meticulous care, that hybrid rice could have double or triple yields [compared with] local rices … [to] attract local farmers to join hybrid rice cultivation,” he said.

During his time in Pakistan, Dai has experienced some heartfelt interactions with the local farmers, including an invitation to a meal that deeply moved him, he told the South China Morning Post on Tuesday.

After seeing the high yield from one of Dai’s demonstration fields, a farmer planted hybrid rice himself. The following year, pleased with his bountiful harvest, he invited Dai to his home to enjoy a feast of duck.

Chinese agricultural expert Dai Yingnan has been based in Pakistan since graduating from Hunan Agricultural University in 2017. Photo: Douyin/Dai Yingnan

While locals usually eat with their hands, the farmer went to town and bought chopsticks for his Chinese guest – a gesture that deeply moved Dai, because of its thoughtfulness.

“Despite not knowing him well and the language barrier, I could feel his appreciation for the Chinese agricultural expertise,” Dai said.

Pakistan’s arid climate poses challenges for traditional rice farming, which can be addressed with the introduction of drought-resistant varieties. However, a large part of Dai’s work is about addressing differences in farming philosophies.

“Local farmers [sometimes] grow crops casually and pay little attention to field management. Once a farmer told me that when they planted rice, they believed that the yield was given to them by Allah,” Dai said.

To bridge the knowledge gap, Dai and his team provide hands-on training in pollination, nutrient management, weed control, and other techniques that can increase yields from a few hundred kilograms per mu (1/15th of a hectare) to about 800kg (1,700lb).

But the growing security concerns are making it harder and more costly for Dai and his fellow Chinese nationals to fulfil their mission of sharing knowledge and expertise with Pakistan’s farmers.


Five Chinese engineers killed in suicide bomb attack in Pakistan

Five Chinese engineers killed in suicide bomb attack in Pakistan

Dai recounted some of the many security policies introduced by the Pakistani government in response to the escalating attacks on Chinese workers in the country.

“Government requires Chinese people to use bulletproof cars when going out. We also need to report our whereabouts to the police and can only travel with police approval and protection,” he said.

“Additionally, the places where Chinese people live must be secured with barbed wire and surveillance cameras.”

Renting a bulletproof car costs 20,000 to 30,000 yuan (US$2,750 to $4,125) per month, and buying one costs several hundred thousand yuan.

“Many Chinese have found these costs too high and have returned to China. Sometimes, travel permissions are not granted on time, and local Pakistani colleagues have to take over my work in the field,” Dai said.

Despite these challenges, Dai has continued to traverse most of Pakistan’s rice-growing regions – the same ones that he has been visiting for the past seven years, avoiding only the western desert and areas controlled by the Taliban.

His efforts have contributed to a soaring acceptance of hybrid rice, driven by widespread smartphone and social media use in Pakistan’s rural areas.

Pakistan’s rice exports have seen a corresponding surge, growing by nearly 5.6 million tonnes in the past 11 months to make the country the world’s fourth-largest rice exporter.

Agricultural expert Dai Yingnan said the security situation has made life harder and more costly for Chinese nationals in Pakistan, but he is positive about the future and plans to continue his work there. Photo: YouTube/Dai Yingnan

China also exports agricultural machinery for planting and harvesting to Pakistan, with government subsidies for farmers who buy or rent these machines. Dai’s advice on these decisions has also yielded heartwarming exchanges with local farmers.

“Pakistani farmers used Japanese Kubota harvesters and transplanters, but in recent years leading Chinese agricultural companies – like World Agriculture Machinery from Jiangsu province and Lovol from Shandong province – have begun promoting their products in Pakistan,” Dai said.

Despite the challenges, Dai is positive about his position although he has been less active online lately, largely because of restrictions on going out that have been imposed on Chinese nationals in the country.

Nevertheless, he plans to stay in Pakistan and continue sharing his perspective on local culture and customers in future social media posts.

“Promoting agricultural technology in Pakistan is a continuous effort from one generation to the next. However, many areas in the country still have farmers unfamiliar with hybrid rice, necessitating ongoing outreach,” he said.