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Domestic seed tech sees growing gains

By Li Lei | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-02-08 09:09

Government emphasizes importance of agricultural assets for food security

The central authorities raised the importance of seed technology on a par with farmland preservation at the Central Rural Work Conference in late December, as part of China's effort to bolster food security through greater technological input.

While addressing the conference, President Xi Jinping said that special attention must be paid to farmland and seeds.

Xi, who is also general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission, called for real progress in the campaign to invigorate the seed industry and efforts to keep major varieties "firmly in our own hands".

Agrarians shall be guided by urgent needs in the agricultural sector, and focus on fields such as fundamental technologies, core germplasm resources, as well as key agricultural machinery and equipment, he said.

Germplasm, or seed matter, are genetic resources such as seeds or animal tissue that can be used to aid in the breeding of crops or livestock.

Since the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), China has been talking about preventing its crop land area from shrinking below a 120-million-hectare redline to ensure the self-sufficiency of staple food.

However, the seed technology represented by germplasm has in recent years been increasingly viewed as an additional avenue to bolster food production in a country that feeds 20 percent of the world's population with just 10 percent of the Earth's arable land.

The Party's push for more cutting-edge farming technologies came as it has attached greater importance to agriculture in building China into a modern socialist country and promoting common prosperity in the decades to come.

Xi told attending officials that without strong agriculture, there won't be a great modern country, and the socialist modernization won't be complete without agricultural and rural modernization.

The growing interest in germplasm was also partly fueled by China's wish to supply its people with homegrown food varieties and reduce its dependence upon imports for oil crops such as soybeans and rapeseed.

In 2021, State broadcaster China Central Television reported that more than 70 foreign seed conglomerates had made inroads into the Chinese market in recent years, and monopolized large parts of the country's vegetable growing industry.

More than 60 percent of plants growing in the Chinese "vegetable capital" of Shouguang, Shandong province, were foreign-developed species, and a single tomato seed could cost as much as 0.18 yuan (2.6 cents), the report said.

The shortfall was steeper in chicken farming. Farmers' Daily reported last month that three major homegrown chicken species accounted for just 15 percent of those raised in animal farms nationwide.

To reverse the situation, the country's seed law was revised and put into force in March in a broader effort to protect the intellectual property of seed breeders and incentivize innovation and investment in seed technologies.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has over the past year ramped up support for seed research and production, and sped up cataloging homegrown species' genetic information.

The ministry said over the past year it had collected 118,000 germplasm samples of food species from across the country, more than it had anticipated. Some 113,000 such samples had been handed over to the national crop germplasm resources nurseries that had been established nationwide since September for preserving genetic data.

The Ministry of Finance has earmarked 2 billion yuan in support of 112 counties to create seed production bases in partnership with seed companies.

The State-owned Agriculture Development Bank of China has also worked to bolster financial services, having lent 22.6 billion yuan to businesses involved in seed production industrial chains since 2021.

China has already begun reaping the benefits from its increased focus on homegrown seed technologies.

On Dec 26, "Chinese Lettuce No 1", a homegrown lettuce species bred by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, passed expert deliberation and was approved for production after four years of research.

China produces 56 percent of lettuce consumed worldwide, but nearly all lettuce species raised in China are developed by foreign companies.

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