Su Lirong, a 54-year-old Chinese agricultural expert, has recently received a laudatory title from his old friends in Liberia. The title "Tamba Foya" is a local name used exclusively for those who are considered very respected and honorable guests.
Su formed ties with Liberia in 2016 after the company he works for, Yuan Longping High-tech Agriculture Co. Ltd. (LPHT), became the contractor of China's second agricultural assistance program in Liberia, where he is based as an expert in hybrid rice.
In the past two years, Su and his colleagues worked together to grow China's hybrid rice in Liberia. The area of planted hybrid rice reaches 130 hectares, and grain yields more than quadrupled compared with the local rice variety.
Liberia is one of the world's poorest countries, with a population of nearly 5 million. "Liberia has to import 60 percent of grain because its own output can only meet 40 percent of its 1-million-tonne demand every year," Su said.
Moreover, border closures and quarantines in the wake of the outbreak of Ebola in 2015 further disrupted the grain market and processing chain, making it more difficult to get food, Su said.
Experts like Su are only a small sample of China's agricultural support in Africa. Since 2008, China has signed agreements with Liberia to provide not only food aid but also agricultural technology assistance.
In May 2013, the Chinese Academy of Sciences set up a China-Africa research center to help relieve the grain shortage of African countries through China's wisdom and experience.
The center has introduced China's high-yield and quicker-growing crop varieties in corn, hybrid rice and sweet sorghum to countries including Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda.
The assistance programs not only increase grain output but also help locals bring in more income.
Before growing hybrid rice from China, many Liberians like Mulbah could hardly make ends meet.
Mulbah, now chief of an agricultural cooperative in Liberia, recently bought a second-hand car and helped one of the members of the cooperative build a new house after they planted 10 hectares of hybrid rice.
Saturday Flomo, 27, used to be a taxi driver in Liberia, but he has now been trained to drive various types of farm machinery.
As the first Chinese firm authorized to provide training courses on hybrid rice planting for overseas students, LPHT trains a large number of overseas agricultural technicians each year.
"Many of the trainees have become high-level officials and policymakers in their countries, and their vast understanding of China's agriculture can help promote further cooperation with China," said Zhang Ke, deputy general manager of LPHT.
"Our aid to Africa will continue in the future, and the younger generation who were born in the 1990s is becoming the backbone of the aid program," said Zhang."