Profile: Sudanese student aims to use Chinese solutions for powering agriculture in Africa

Updated: June 14, 2022 Source: Xinhua News Agency
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Sudanese student Altyeb Ali checks the growth of vegetables at a research base in east China's Anhui Province, May 31, 2022. (Xinhua/Wang Haiyue)

HEFEI, June 14 (Xinhua) -- Altyeb Ali, 32, from Sudan, aspires to forge a new path for agricultural development in Africa after acquiring knowledge about solar energy and agrivoltaic systems in China for almost seven years.

Ali, who was born into a farming family in southeast 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 application scenarios, particularly in agriculture.

At this forum, he met Liu Wen, a professor at the University of Science and Technology of China, and this 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," according to Ali.

Ali was more driven to understand this technique after an in-depth discussion with professor 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 said.

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 the sunlight needed for plant growth, and use the other light for power generation. The study proved that this system can greatly reduce water evaporation and evapotranspiration while satisfying plant photosynthesis," Ali said.

He noted 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 all throughout the year," Ali said.

Talking about the future, Ali said he intends to pursue postdoctoral studies in China after graduation 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 in Sudan as well as 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 said. 

Editor: Jiang Feifan