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Sudanese student notes use of study on farming

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-06-22 08:54
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HEFEI - Altyeb Ali, 32, from Sudan, aspires to forge a new path for agricultural development in Africa after spending almost seven years acquiring knowledge about solar energy and agrivoltaic systems in China.

Ali, who was born into a farming family in southeastern Sudan, was well aware of both the significance and the plight of agricultural development in his country.

While Sudan has abundant solar energy resources, it is also beset by other difficulties, such as drought and water scarcity in large parts of the country.

After working in Sudan as a mechanical engineer for a year, Ali got a scholarship to pursue a master's degree in solar energy applications and technology at Kunming University of Science and Technology in 2015.

A new energy forum he attended near graduation made him realize that solar energy actually has broader applications, particularly in agriculture.

At this forum, he met Liu Wen, a professor at the University of Science and Technology of China, and his presentation on agrivoltaic systems particularly piqued Ali's interest.

"This technique can generate electricity and save water while boosting crop quality and yield, making previously unsuitable dry land feasible for farming. If I master this technology, I can solve many agricultural problems in Sudan," says Ali.

Ali was more driven to understand this technique after an in-depth discussion with Liu, and he enrolled as a doctoral student studying agrivoltaic systems at Liu's university three months later.

Ali began to study how to plant, irrigate, fertilize and harvest based on his knowledge of solar energy application. He also looked at how to build a photovoltaic greenhouse, and calculate evaporation and evapotranspiration in agrivoltaic systems.

"We grew various plants, including tomatoes, eggplants and roses in the experimental base of our college," Ali says.

In 2021, Ali moved to a larger experimental field in Fuyang city of East China's Anhui province and spent eight months there. "By applying different agrivoltaic systems, we can intervene and separate sunlight to only let in what is needed for plant growth, and use the rest for power generation. The study proved that this system can greatly reduce water evaporation and evapotranspiration while satisfying plant photosynthesis," Ali says.

He notes that this study could be of great use in his hometown where many vegetables cannot be grown in summer due to strong sunlight.

"By introducing agrivoltaic systems and greenhouses, we can control sunlight, temperature, humidity and water evaporation so that people can consume a greater variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the year," Ali says.

Talking about the future, Ali says, after graduation, he intends to pursue postdoctoral studies in China to acquire a deeper understanding of the agrivoltaic system and then return to Sudan.

He plans to become a university teacher in Sudan and start a company to promote the application of agrivoltaic systems there, as well as in other African countries.

"My study experience in China has increased my confidence in my future, as well as in the development of agrivoltaic technology in Sudan, which could have strategic implications for African countries," Ali says.

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