‘Magic grass’ from China brings world happiness through Juncao tech

Children eat freshly fried mushrooms in Gba village of Bangui, the Central African Republic, February 5, 2024. /Xinhua

Children eat freshly fried mushrooms in Gba village of Bangui, the Central African Republic, February 5, 2024. /Xinhua

China’s decades-long fight against poverty has yielded many inspiring stories, with it’s self-developed Juncao technology playing a surprisingly powerful role. Literally meaning “fungi and grass,” the Juncao, a seemingly ordinary grass, offers a versatile solution to produce edible mushrooms, serve as nutritious livestock feed, or act as an ecological barrier to combat desertification.

The Juncao technology, replacing timber with Juncao for mushroom growing, significantly lowered farming costs, reduced annual tree clearing, and provided an economical and environmentally friendly path towards poverty alleviation.

Hailed by people around the world as the “Chinese grass” or “grass of happiness,” Juncao has benefited over 100 countries and regions by addressing poverty, soil erosion and desertification, according to the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. 

So far, a total of 270 Juncao training programs have been organized by China both at home and abroad, educating over 10,000 people who are now qualified to popularize Juncao technology in as many as 18 languages, said the ministry. 

Lin Zhanxi, a professor at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, speaks about the Juncao technology to foreign trainees in Fuzhou City, southeast China’s Fujian Province, October 14, 2023. /Xinhua

Lin Zhanxi, a professor at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, speaks about the Juncao technology to foreign trainees in Fuzhou City, southeast China’s Fujian Province, October 14, 2023. /Xinhua

Foreign trainees check mushrooms cultivated on Juncao in Fuzhou City, southeast China’s Fujian Province, October 14, 2023. /Xinhua

Foreign trainees check mushrooms cultivated on Juncao in Fuzhou City, southeast China’s Fujian Province, October 14, 2023. /Xinhua

Juncao tech benefits all

The Juncao technology was invented in the 1980s by Lin Zhanxi, a professor at China’s Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University. Lin’s team provided the technology and personnel training for Juncao, which has been introduced to the UN development plans thanks to its ability to solve problems such as food shortages.

The innovative technology has allowed smallholder farmers to grow mushrooms from dried, chopped grasses, without cutting down trees and damaging the environment. The environmentally friendly technology helps small-scale farmers and communities to develop a low-cost, commercial-scale mushroom cultivation industry that can provide sustainable livelihood options for family farmers and rural entrepreneurs along agri-food value chains.

Across the globe, since China established its first overseas Juncao technology demonstration base in Papua New Guinea in 2001, the Juncao technology has benefited numerous countries and regions.

Villagers wait to be served with freshly fried mushrooms in Gba village of Bangui, the Central African Republic, February 5, 2024. /Xinhua

Villagers wait to be served with freshly fried mushrooms in Gba village of Bangui, the Central African Republic, February 5, 2024. /Xinhua

Fatime Abba Rekya picks mushrooms in her own mushroom shed in Damara, the Central African Republic, February 6, 2024. /Xinhua

Fatime Abba Rekya picks mushrooms in her own mushroom shed in Damara, the Central African Republic, February 6, 2024. /Xinhua

The Juncao technology has been applied to many African countries such as South Africa, Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria. At present, Juncao technology demonstration bases have been established in Rwanda, Lesotho and the Central African Republic, according to the Chinese Mission to the African Union (AU).

For example, the technology benefits over 4,000 Rwandan farmers, aiding the creation of more than 30,000 jobs along the agricultural value chain.

“Juncao grass is Chinese wisdom, transforming pastoralism in Africa. One acre can feed 20 cows,” said a Chinese agripreneur Jack Liu in Kenya, adding that Juncao grass can be used to control desertification, soil erosion, and land degradation, and boost biodiversity protection while helping communities cope with the climate crisis.

Juncao grass, according to Liu, has a crude protein content of 18.6 percent, can be harvested more than five times annually, has an annual yield of about 180 tonnes per acre, and takes 12 weeks to mature.

When fed to dairy cows, Juncao grass can boost milk yield by 40 percent, while beef cattle can attain 500 kilograms in 12 months when they consume the fodder that is disease-, pest- and drought-resistant, according to Liu.

Media (R) from Rwanda learns about Juncao from a Chinese student in the national engineering research center of Juncao technology at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University in Fuzhou City, southeast China’s Fujian Province, March 28, 2024. /Xinhua

Media (R) from Rwanda learns about Juncao from a Chinese student in the national engineering research center of Juncao technology at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University in Fuzhou City, southeast China’s Fujian Province, March 28, 2024. /Xinhua

Contributing to UN sustainable goals

Besides substituting for wood to grow mushrooms, Juncao grass is increasingly being used as livestock feed and in environmental protection, energy and fertilizer production. It has also led to the emergence of a new industry that uses Juncao grass to produce fiberboard and paper. The tech has the potential to contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), said UN officials.

Josefa Sacko, the AU commissioner for agriculture, rural development, blue economy and sustainable environment, in a message presented on her behalf, expressed the AU’s strong support and readiness to partner with China in the application of the Juncao technology across Africa.

Noting the AU’s ongoing efforts to promote medium-term options that improve the promotion of low-cost options towards food security, the commissioner underscored the application of Juncao technology as a viable initiative.

“The Juncao technology is a low-cost technology that will help us realize food security and reduce poverty among the rural poor in Africa. The technology’s proven application in mushrooms production and animal feed, if taken into scale, will contribute to fighting malnutrition in the continent, which is rampant among the resource-poor households,” she said.

Participants of a training course on Juncao technology for Pacific Island countries pose for a photo with mushrooms cultivated using Juncao ingredients in Nadi, Fiji, February 28, 2024. /Xinhua

Participants of a training course on Juncao technology for Pacific Island countries pose for a photo with mushrooms cultivated using Juncao ingredients in Nadi, Fiji, February 28, 2024. /Xinhua

Amson Sibanda from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) said that Juncao technology is an effective tool and a simple technology that can be used by everyone, even somebody with limited knowledge of education.

Sibanda spoke at the recently concluded African regional workshop on applications of Juncao technology and its contribution to the achievement of sustainable agriculture and the sustainable development goals in Africa, in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

“The technology has a big potential to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development goals,” said Sibanda, who currently serves as the chief of the National Strategies and Capacity Building Branch in the Division for Sustainable Development Goals of UNDESA, adding that the reason why UNDESA is promoting the technology is because of the 2030 agenda of SDGs.

“We believe that the Juncao technology is one of the technological solutions that can be transferred through south-south cooperation to help those countries that want to address the issues of food insecurity, environment challenges and poverty alleviation,” he said.

He explained that growing mushrooms using Juncao technology will address food insecurity, generate household income and create employment opportunities for women and young people, and called on African countries and beyond to adopt and implement the technology in the quest for promoting economic development.

Nyambo Obed shows the cultivated mushrooms at his workshop near Muhanga in Southern Province, Rwanda, April 6, 2024. /Xinhua

Nyambo Obed shows the cultivated mushrooms at his workshop near Muhanga in Southern Province, Rwanda, April 6, 2024. /Xinhua

“We have seen here in Rwanda how young people have embraced Juncao technology. These young people are very empowered and have big dreams. We wish to see more people across Africa get to know Juncao technology and its benefits,” Sibanda said, and noted that Juncao technology can protect the environment and address climate change challenges through soil erosion control as well as using Juncao grass to feed livestock.

The knowledge of Juncao technology in producing mushrooms and the use of Juncao grass as a forage for livestock are very important in promoting economic development, said Asimwe L. Rwiguza, director for Grazing Land and Animal Feed Resources in the Tanzanian Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries.

“Juncao technology will help us address the challenge of conflict between crop producers and livestock herders in Tanzania because we are going to increase forage production for livestock using the technology,” Rwiguza said, and explained that the conflict is a result of the livestock harming farmers’ crop fields due to lack of sufficient fodder.

“We have seen here in Rwanda mushroom products that have been produced using Juncao technology. We have gained that knowledge and we are going to practice it in our country,” said Rwiguza.

(With input from Xinhua)