Domestically developed seeds, a crucial part of China’s food security, have gained the attention of the top leadership, as security of agricultural “chips” tops the government agenda along with various other aspects of economic security ranging from energy supplies to tech self-sufficiency.
President Xi Jinping stressed the crucial role of “Chinese seeds” in ensuring the country’s food security.
Global food security has long been a matter of concern for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has on multiple occasions urged concrete actions and public awareness in ensuring food security for all humanity.
China’s food security can only be safeguarded when seed resources are firmly held in our own hands, Xi said while inspecting a seed laboratory in Sanya, South China’s Hainan Province. “To ensure that China’s seed resources are self-supporting and under better control, self-reliance must be achieved in seed technology,” he said.
In a Special Address at the 2022 World Economic Forum Virtual Session in January, Xi pointed out that “difficulties are mounting in food security … and other areas important to people’s livelihoods,” stressing that “we need to bridge the development divide and revitalise global development.”
Addressing the general debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2021, Xi proposed the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and called on the international community to strengthen cooperation in such areas as poverty alleviation and food security.
In a congratulatory letter to the International Conference on Food Loss and Waste held in September 2021, Xi said food security is a fundamental issue concerning the existence of humanity and reducing food loss is an important way to ensure food security.
In the letter, Xi expressed the hope that all parties would work together and jointly implement the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and make contributions to the elimination of famine and poverty, global food security and the building of a community with a shared future for humanity.
Under Xi’s leadership, China, having successfully eliminated absolute poverty within its borders, has been making contributions to global efforts to address food shortage and alleviate poverty.
With its remarkable achievements in ensuring domestic food security, China has actively shared its experience with the rest of the world.
At the end of 2021, China had facilitated over 1,500 technology transfers across the world in fields such as crop production, animal husbandry, farmland water conservation, and agricultural products processing, which has benefited over 1.5 million farmer households.
Industry insiders and biotechnological experts have said that the looming global food crisis amid the protracted Ukraine crisis will not engulf China or pose a threat to its seed security, as about 95 per cent of staple food grains reaped in the country such as rice and barley are cultivated using self-developed seeds.
Major breakthroughs are also being achieved in the “bottlenecked” seed sectors such as corn, soybean, broiler chicken, and breeding pigs, helping further reduce reliance on imports amid rising geopolitical risks.
“Only by mastering the core competitiveness of seeds can we control the relevant procedures. Whether it comes to the division of interests, the layout of the industry, or even pricing, it is all based on seed independence,” Jiang Zhimin, deputy head of the Administrative Bureau of Sanya Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City, told the Global Times.
According to Jiang, the Yazhou Bay Seed Laboratory was established in Nanfan Science and Technology City in May 2021, dedicated to breeding innovation, regulatory services, and cooperation and exchanges.
Jiang said the lab will also give each seed an ID that can be detected, helping better protect seed intellectual property. The battle for China’s seed self-sufficiency has long been a key mission. Every year between September and May of the following year, more than 8,000 Chinese agricultural scientists and workers from 700 institutions gather at Nanfan Technology City in Sanya, South China’s Hainan Province.
Lu Yuping, vice president of Yuan Long Ping and general manager of the start-up Longping Biotechnology (Hainan), told the Global Times that the company has successfully developed a corn seed hybrid that can be harvested all year, up from three seasons, marking a major step in bolstering corn output and “enriching the bowls of Chinese people.”
Yuan Long Ping High-Tech Agriculture Company, named after the renowned “father of hybrid rice” Yuan Longping, is one of the world’s top 10 leading seed companies in terms of global sales. Another Chinese company in the top 10 is Syngenta Group, acquired and consolidated by state-owned ChemChina and Sinochem.
During his inspection in Sanya on Sunday, Xi called for carrying forward the spirit of scientists and researchers of the older generations, including Yuan Longping. Xi also called for sustained efforts in developing the country’s seed industry.
According to Lu, corn is currently the world’s biggest grain and feed crop. The escalating situation between Russia and Ukraine, which jointly account for over 20 percent of global corn supplies, is pushing global food prices to record highs. Ukraine supplies around 30 percent of China’s corn imports. The country imported 7.32 million ton of corn from Ukraine in 2021.
China’s corn seed resources used to be neither abundant nor robust, and the output of China’s self-developed corn and soybean seeds was about 40-60 percent that of foreign countries, Lu said. But thanks to genetic modification technology, corn and soybean yields could be boosted by 15-30 percent, because of the existence of new genetic advancements that can make the grain resistant to weeds and pests.
Li Xinhai, director-general of the biotechnology research institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told the Global Times that Chinese companies and institutes have developed genetically modified insect-resistant corn varieties, which have met the national standard.
Lu said that the Russia-Ukraine crisis is a wake-up call to China’s agricultural security, and the firm plans to triple its investment in seed R&D compared to 2021.
The central government also recently announced moves to boost the domestic food and seed industry. A spokesperson for Beijing-based agricultural firm Da BeiNong (DBN) Group said that in line with China’s seed revitalization strategy, its total investment in seed R&D hit 1.68 billion yuan in the last 10 years. Such spending accounts for 13 percent of its seed sales.
China has advantages in germplasm and breeding technology for some crops like hybrid rice, while domestically developed soybean and vegetable seeds have long been monopolized by foreign markets and have become globally competitive in recent years, according to Li.
Yuan Long Ping High-Tech Agriculture Company has set up a hybrid rice R&D and breeding center in various countries including Pakistan, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Ethiopia, and Nigeria, and 19 variants of hybrid rice have either been approved or registered abroad.
DBN Group told the Global Times that one of its genetic modified (GM) soybean seeds, which is able to reduce output loss by 10 to 20 per cent, has acquired a GM crop safety certificate from China’s Ministry of Agriculture.
In December 2021, China approved three varieties of white broiler chicken, a large variety that grows faster, ending a four-decade-long reliance on foreign seed resource imports. The breakthrough was aided by the “Jingxin No.1 breeding chip”, which is able to conduct analysis based on big data that accelerates bio breeding procedures, Li noted.
In 2019, China imported 66,000 tons of seeds, down from 72,700 tons of seed imports in 2018, data from the China National Seed Trade Association showed.
Catching up foreign peers
Industry observers said that the gap between China and Western countries is partly due to a lag in the set-up of complete genetic resources and gene-editing technology, but China has, in recent times, spared no efforts in catching up with its foreign peers in this area.
The China-developed Juncao technology is a case in point. Juncao, which literally means “mushroom” and “grass,” can be used to grow edible mushrooms.
In today’s Papua New Guinea, the particular breed of grass cultivated by Chinese scientists and recommended by President Xi two decades ago has lift tens of thousands of local people out of poverty.
In Madagascar, the hybrid rice provided by China has helped eliminate hunger among local people. In Cuba, the seeds of Moringa brought by China as a gift have grown into tangible fruits for local people, largely enriching their daily diet. In South Sudan, China has donated thousands of tons of rice as part of emergency food assistance program to the east African nation.
In countries including those along the Belt and Road, China has enhanced agricultural investment and cooperation, and provided assistance to improve the production capacity of many developing countries.
Speaking highly of the progress China has made in ensuring domestic food security, U.S. World Grain magazine once commented that China plays an important role in global food security, adding that all countries have vowed to make domestic food security a top priority, but no country has been more committed to this goal in recent years than China.
Courtesy: Xinhua and Global Times