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China's Papa Juncao Brings Mushrooms, New Livelihood to Fiji

Mar 23, 2016     Email"> PrintText Size

 

Mushrooms produced in Fuji with Chinese technology. (Photo/Xinhua) 

Fiji could not produce edible or medicinal mushrooms in the past but that has become history.

A Chinese scientist has brought his technology from China to this tiny island country across the vast Pacific Ocean, gifting the Fijian people locally-grown mushrooms, and more importantly a brand new livelihood that lifts them further away from poverty.

When the China Aid Fiji Juncao Technology Cooperation Project managed to commercialize the Fijian-grown produce on the Pacific island country's domestic market for the first time in late 2014, Prof. Lin Zhanxi, project chief scientist from China's Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University who invented the Juncao technology in 1980s and is therefore nicknamed Papa Juncao, felt that all his efforts are worth it.

"I'm very glad to help Fiji with the emerging Juncao industry where thousands of households can participate, increasing incomes for both subsistence and bigger scale farmers, helping with poverty alleviation and promoting the friendly relationship between China and Fiji," Lin, 73, who shuttles between China, Fiji and other countries to take care of his Juncao projects, told Xinhua Wednesday via WeChat, a popular messaging app.

Nowadays, the project, in association with local mushroom farmers and distributors, regularly supplies Juncao mushrooms to a lot of hotels and restaurants across Fiji, said Lin.

The China Aid Fiji Juncao Technology Cooperation Project, established in 2014 after the Chinese and Fijian governments signed an agreement to start the agricultural cooperation, is aimed at helping Fiji initiate its Juncao industry, diversifying Fijians' menu, creating mushroom growing-related job opportunities, increasing local farmers' incomes and contributing to poverty alleviation in the Pacific island country.

Traditional edible and medicinal fungus cultivation techniques rely on logs or sawdust as the "soil" for mushrooms to grow from, while the technology of Juncao, a transliterated word meaning "fungus grass" in Chinese, enables mushrooms to grow out of chopped grass instead, therefore helping conserve woody plants or forests that the modern world is not really rich in.

Fiji's Ministry of Agriculture identified the Legalega Research Station at the country's tourism hub of Nadi as an ideal place to grow Juncao mushrooms taking into consideration the area of demonstration, marketing and product exportation.

Nevertheless, when Lin and his team first arrived at the project site, things were not as easy as they had imagined, including the temperature of groundwater that is too high for the natural coolant to help mushrooms grow properly.

Overcoming technical difficulties, Lin's team managed to establish a Juncao mushroom production line with a mini-laboratory, which is currently capable of producing some 30,000 kilograms of mushrooms annually. As the project further evolves and involves more farmers and local businesses, the output is expected to rise significantly, said Lin.

"One method is growing mushrooms in controlled indoor environments, while the other one is growing them in trenches beneath trees, and both have been a success," Lin said.

In a bid to attract more Fijians to this new industry, Lin's team has organized a series of training courses and trained nearly 300 local Juncao technicians, who can further get families and friends involved in mushroom production.

Aside from being used as mushroom "soil", the high-yielding Giant Juncao Grass brought to Fiji by Lin can also be processed, stored and used as animal feed directly, which comes in handy especially during the dry season.

"People who are interested in the commodity (Juncao mushroom) will benefit because it's a simple technology where one does not need to purchase acres of land to cultivate but plots are required with short time to plant and harvest," Miliakere Nawaikula, a former senior official with Fiji's Ministry of Agriculture has said.

During one training course held last year, two mushroom importers told Xinhua that they are "very interested in" growing and selling Fijian Juncao mushrooms, which are less expensive compared with foreign ones.

Inia Seruiratu, Fiji's minister for agriculture, rural and maritime development, agrees.

Calling China as "a friend of Fiji and a key development partner", Seruiratu has told Xinhua that Fiji spends its foreign currency reserve to purchase mushrooms and animal feed from overseas, therefore by promoting the local Juncao industry, the country can shrink its import bills and increase local farmers' incomes, which benefits poverty alleviation efforts.

Moreover, Seruiratu said, the project can greatly help Fiji in the fight against climate change since the Giant Juncao Grass has been doing very well in terms of soil conservation.

The Juncao project is among a range of Chinese development assistance to Fiji, including road upgrade projects, a rice project to improve Fiji's food security and farmers' livelihood, a sewing machine project where China has donated over 2,200 sewing machines to Fiji's rural and disabled women to help them with job opportunities, as well as other projects, which as a whole have been assisting Fiji on the development path that the Pacific island country has chosen by itself. (Xinhua)

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(Editor: LIU Jia)

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