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Quality seeds key to farm sector's security

By Yao Yuxin | China Daily | Updated: 2020-12-29 07:29


Editor's Note: To ensure food security, the recently concluded Central Economic Work Conference vowed to bolster the growth of the seed sector and expedite the construction of seed banks on a priority basis, reflecting the importance the top authorities pay to the protection of seeds. In fact, the CEWC has made seed protection and development one of the eight key tasks for 2021. Two experts share their views on the issue with China Daily's Yao Yuxin. Excerpts follow:

Promote innovation to increase farm yield

Seeds are fundamental to agriculture and the most crucial elements in the livelihoods of agricultural communities, and therefore strategically important to food security. The CEWC has attached added importance to seeds, especially because China is entering the modern phase of agriculture when higher production efficiency would be required-and seeds could contribute to more than 60 percent of the total farming output.

Since increasing numbers of workers are migrating from villages to cities, thanks to rapid urbanization, there is an urgent need to fully mechanize agriculture. Using machines to sow and harvest crops is becoming increasingly popular in China. Yet, due to poor seed quality, farmers in general tend to sow more seeds than the soil can germinate, and because of the relatively low rate of germination, they spend a lot of time in weeding out the excess, poorly developed sprouts later.

If the farmers have access to high-quality seeds, they will not be forced to spend precious time to weed out the stunted sprouts and, instead, can do odd jobs to increase their incomes.

Moreover, quality seeds can increase the yield. And by spending less time in sowing and yet harvesting higher yields, the farmers will be more inclined to continue farming instead of transferring their land-use rights and migrating to cities in search of better-paying jobs.

But since the seeds widely available in China are not of high quality, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has decided to introduce new standards from Nov 1, 2021, for corn cultivation to raise its germination percentage through single sowing from 85 percent to 93 percent.

Unlike intensive farming, over-seeding or sowing of excess seeds is a common practice in the country, which causes a huge wastage of foods. What complicates the matter is that high-yielding and high-intensity crops are more vulnerable to pests and diseases.

Also, despite having to pay the same amount of money, farmers following conventional modes of farming tend to purchase inferior seeds in larger quantities rather than high-quality seeds in lower quantity that will give higher yields, which partly explains why it has been difficult to expand the planting area of hybrid rice in recent years.

And compared with cultivating food grains, it is much more challenging to grow vegetables and raise livestock such as purebred cows, horses and pigs. China still needs to import a large number of vegetable seeds and livestock for reproduction.

Further, there is still a big gap between China and many advanced countries in terms of seed production technology. For instance, agricultural authorities in advanced countries use X-ray machines to test seed embryos to ensure they will fully germinate before sowing them, whereas Chinese farmers still use sand for seed germination.

So, to transform the agricultural sector, the government should promote innovation to address the over-sowing problem, and allocate more funds for R&D and ensure research results are put to practice.

Wang Jianhua, a professor at the College of Agronomy and Biotechnology, China Agricultural University

Seed security will be better protected

Quality seeds have played an important role in the development of China's agricultural industry. Yet China has to depend on imports for the further development of the agricultural sector. More important, the US-triggered trade war has revealed some loopholes in China's seed security and overall farming system.

China has to purchase some farm products from other countries, which raises the cost of agricultural products at home. Which means China should take measures to better secure and diversify its seed sources. Of course, China has the advantage of abundant natural resources and a huge expanse of land with different climate conditions which make it ideal to preserve and use different types of seeds.

The lack of attention to seed provenance in the past has led to the decline in seed breeding in China. There have even been cases when China has imported seeds from abroad that actually originated in the country due to a lack of proper preservation of agricultural resources.

Therefore, the authorities should first take measures to better protect seed provenance and then cross-fertilize and develop hybrid seeds without having to bother about violating the intellectual property rights of foreign entities.

Besides, given the advanced technology and heavy investments needed to develop seeds, enterprises and research institutions should join hands to take the mission forward. And since the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) has listed solving the "seed problem" as an important national task for next year, we can be certain that China will better safeguard seed security in the future.

Li Guoxiang, a researcher at the Rural Development Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

If you have a specific expertise and would like to contribute to China Daily, please contact us at opinion@chinadaily.com.cn , and comment@chinadaily.com.cn



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