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Russian expert seeks sustainable soil solutions in China

Updated: 2015-11-20

 

Vladimir Matychenkov, a soil expert from Russia, is digging up fields in Central China for sustainable solutions. Liu Xiangrui and Feng Zhiwei report in Changsha.

 

Vladimir Matychenkov, a renowned soil expert from Russia, has found an exciting new ground for his work in Central China's Hunan province.

 

The 51-year-old has been spending a lot of his time in Changsha, the provincial capital, since last year.

 

 

Matychenkov, soil expert from Russia, has found an exciting new ground for his work in Hunan. Photo provided to China Daily

 

Matychenkov established connections with the Hunan Academy of Agricultural Sciences in 2010, after he gave a speech at the academy during a visit to the city. At the invitation of Ji Xionghui, vice-director of the academy's Institute of Soil Science, Matychenkov then started to visit the academy twice every year to work on small projects or to deliver lectures.

 

"The result of such exchanges was good and we started to seriously talk about future cooperation," says Matychenkov, who is a senior scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

 

He got his PhD in biochemistry in Russia in 1986.

 

In 2013, he became a visiting professor of the Hunan academy to help with research in passivation and reduction of cadmium in soil. And now, he is a high-level foreign expert who has joined the Key Laboratory of Agro-Environment in Midstream of Yangtze Plain, which is based in the Hunan academy. The laboratory is an affiliate of the Ministry of Agriculture.

 

Matychenkov found that Hunan, as one of China's largest producers of rice, is also an important region for mining, which creates high levels of pollution and threatens food safety.

 

"I realized that I can put my technology to use here," says Matychenkov, whose responsibilities include giving technological support to institutes and consulting with the province's agricultural companies.

 

He has done research with Chinese colleagues in the academy and aims to use the results to help the region construct a more efficient and ecologically safer rice production system.

 

Matychenkov frequently makes onsite checks in the suburbs of Changsha to make sure that his findings match the real situation in the region.

 

Through tests from two fields, he found that using silicon fertilizer can help reduce plants' absorption of heavy metals such as cadmium by more than 50 percent while increasing production of rice by more than 20 percent.

 

Yuan Longping, a scientist famous for his work on hybrid rice in the province, showed an interest in the findings and allowed Matychenkov to carry out related tests on his experimental fields.

 

Matychenkov is excited that a bigger project involving him and the Hunan Research Institute of Economy and Geology has started this year. The project includes six experimental fields on the Xiangjiang River Plain in Hunan, aiming to test the function of silicon fertilizer in reducing the absorption of heavy metals.

 

"If the final tests are successful, silicon fertilizer will be officially put to use in the region," says Matychenkov. "My dream is to promote organic agriculture. Silicon fertilizers have both economic and environmental significance."

 

Matychenkov, who travels around the world for conferences, has attended several academic meetings and published six research papers on behalf of the Hunan laboratory so far.

 

Having spent nearly a decade working in the United States, Australia and Africa, he admits he is used to working in a foreign country. But he still finds his experience in China special.

 

"In other places, it was usually the case that I had to realize my ideas totally by myself. But in China, I get great support from my local colleagues," he says.

 

The country has offered him more chances to promote his work, he says. He is able to find solutions for soil problems by discussing them with government officials.

 

He has also developed a liking for Changsha, especially the spicy Hunan dishes.

 

"People, especially senior citizens are dancing every evening and everywhere. It's a sign that they are happy and the city is happy," Matychenkov says, adding that foreigners have to stay in smaller cities like Changsha, instead of Beijing and Shanghai, to truly experience different local lifestyles.

 

Matychenkov's Chinese colleagues call him "Old Ma".

 

They have also taken him on several trips to scenic spots and smaller cities of the province and to other parts of China. Matychenkov's wife, Elena Bocharnikova, who is also a soil scientist, has been on a couple such trips while visiting him last year.

 

In October, Matychenkov received the Friendship Award, the top honor given by the central government to foreigners who've made significant contribution to China's development in various fields.

 

"The award is fantastic and unbelievable," says Matychenkov, who attended the ceremony in Beijing with Bocharnikova.

 

Matychenkov admits that he was a little shocked when he became the first award winner to shake hands with Premier Li Keqiang during a meeting the day after the presentation ceremony, and believes that it showed the importance of ties between China and Russia, his homeland.

 

Matychenkov says relations between the two nations have become even stronger in the recent years.

 

"Many of my friends and fellow scientists in Russia are looking forward to working in China. ... They often joke that I am one step ahead of them," says Matychenkov. "I hope I can continue to work in China."

 

Source: China Daily