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Professor grows wealth with potatoes
From:ChinaDaily   |  2021-06-11 10:02

Researcher motivated to create better varieties to help impoverished people

From Xundian Hui and Yi autonomous county in Kunming city to Huize county in Zhaotong city, and from Zhaotong to the whole of Yunnan province, large or small, Li Canhui has probably visited every one of the province's potato fields.

As one of the first batch of potato researchers in Yunnan, Li has over two decades in the field. Every little thing he has experienced in that time helped contribute to the development of potato research in the province, and to his ambition to use advanced planting methods to lift villagers out of poverty.

As the deputy head of the Joint Academy of Potato Science at Yunnan Normal University, Li first entered the field in 1986. At the time, potato research was in its infancy in the province, and there was no previous research, let alone any laboratories.

Under the lead of professor Wang Jun, Li and several other students did everything from research to planting by themselves. As there was no fertilizer, they used manure and with no lab, they worked out of a simple studio.

After finishing his master's, Li went to work for the Yunnan Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

At first, it didn't feel much different to academia. But one day, while conducting field research in Xundian, his path changed. Seeing how poor the people living on the red clay highlands were, he vowed to find a way to lift them out of poverty.

He went back to the research institute and hasn't left since.

According to Li, Yunnan's low latitude highlands have a climate similar to the environment in which the potato originated in South America.

It is now the second-largest food crop in the province, and 70 percent of plots are found in impoverished areas, especially in Zhaotong, Qujing, Dehong and Wenshan.

From thousands of experiments in the lab and countless hours of survey and research in the fields, to the promotion of potatoes to different locations, Li has devoted his life to the tuber for the past two decades, without ever taking a proper holiday.

"I'm a scientist, a doctor, a tutor and a farmer. I've been to most of the impoverished areas in Yunnan. Knowing the situation of the people, I'm aware that better techniques can change their lives, and help them overcome poverty and live better. That's the value of my work," the 53-year-old said.

The United Nations declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato, noting that the tuber is a staple food of much of the world's population. Cooperative 88, the name of the potato variety Li and his team created, has been favorably received at home and abroad.

Zhang Hua, 48, the owner of a potato market in Kunming, said that the Cooperative 88 potato has helped local farmers greatly.

Zhang began selling potatoes at the age of 14. Previous varieties were cheap and low-producing, and 5 to 6 kilograms of potatoes would be traded for 1 kg of rice.

"But Cooperative 88 produces a lot and sells for much more, which increases incomes, as 1 kg of potatoes is now traded for 1 kg of rice, unlike 20 years ago," he says.

Zhang says Li helps farmers solve potato-related problems and that he is easy going and kind, much like an older brother.

Du Chunyong, 52, was Li's first graduate. "He was an academic tyrant who didn't talk much, but now he's a rigorous, hardworking scholar," he said, adding that the professor not only helps him with academic studies, but also instructs him in practice.

"He has made a tremendous contribution to the potato industry in Southwest China, including planting, disease control and the study of varieties,"Du continued.

For Li, it was a sense of responsibility that motivated him to study potatoes for two decades. "Scientific research is not just about precision, advanced equipment, brightly-lit laboratories and research instruments, it's also about doing everything yourself, with a down-to-earth spirit and an unwillingness to fall behind," he said.