Sowing the seeds of sustained growth

Updated: 2013-09-02 00:57

By Hu Yongqi (China Daily)

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China plans more exchanges with ASEAN as agricultural cooperation takes root

Agricultural cooperation between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is expected to get more impetus from the increased seed and technology exchanges between the two sides in the next few years, experts said.

Long Jiang, director of the Yunnan Provincial Science and Technology Department, said that the agriculture technology transfer agreement signed between the two sides in 2002 would be the framework for future agricultural cooperation and for development and exchange of new technologies.

China has fostered nearly 10,000 new varieties of agricultural products in the past 30 years, he said adding that the nation's 3 billion-yuan ($490 million) seed bank project, started in 1995, has helped increase annual food production by 20 million tons.

Long said that the keenness of both sides to enhance agricultural cooperation was evident at a recent meeting of more than 200 agricultural professionals from various Southeast Asian nations in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province. In their meetings with their Chinese counterparts, these professionals agreed to step up efforts to develop and exchange new agricultural technologies.

In Yunnan, more than 300 agricultural researchers and enterprises from all over China showcased their technologies and products, especially seeds of new breeds at the China-ASEAN Technology Transfer Forum on New Technologies and Varieties of Modern Agriculture in Yunnan. In addition, 16 companies from Yunnan signed contracts with partners from ASEAN nations for technology demonstration parks in super soft rice, corn and castor oil.

Long said that there have been increased efforts to cultivate agricultural professionals, boost technology exchanges and promotions, and foster agricultural trade between the two sides.

The Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Agriculture, the United Nations Development Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization have all been providing funds for agriculture technology transfers between the two sides, along with some private companies such as Sime Darby from Malaysia, according to Jin Ke, director of the national cooperation division of the International Cooperation Department of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

As one of the three research institutions directly administered by the Agriculture Ministry, the CAAS has signed cooperation agreements with Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines to promote technical services, postgraduate education, joint research projects and technology transfers, Jin said.

The Gates Foundation has also teamed up with CAAS and provided $18 million for research and development of super rice that was subsequently transferred to other ASEAN nations like Laos and Cambodia. The super rice has increased rice yields by 25 to 30 percent in these nations, he said.

Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng called for the development of a pilot research center in ASEAN nations during his visit to CAAS earlier this year. According to Jin, the first center is expected to be established in Myanmar next year.

"Agriculture is the fundamental industry for both China and ASEAN nations. Both sides have strong competitiveness in their own fields of research. For example, ASEAN nations have more advantages in research into tropical plants and animals," Jin said.

The forum was also a platform for several participants to publicize new technologies and breeds. Shanghai Lianye Agricultural Science and Technology Co Ltd announced a new breakthrough in fertilizing technology by developing a technique to mix water with fertilizers based on the plant's demand and the nutritional conditions of the land. The company has a joint venture with an Israeli enterprise to build a factory in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and will soon venture into the ASEAN markets.

"Our technology will reduce the consumption of water and fertilizers to the lowest level, and allow the plant to grow as fast as it can," said He Longhui, technical director of Lianye.

Seed trade is another crucial aspect for technology transfers, says Guo Chunyu, deputy director of the Technology Transfer Center at CAAS. Yang Bingpeng, researcher at the Institute of Tropical Bioscience and Biotechnology based in Haikou, capital of Hainan province, says that a newly developed sugar cane variety can increase the sugar yield to 90 tons a hectare from the current 60 tons. "The climate in Hainan is extremely similar to most of the ASEAN countries and the high-yield variety will be a bestseller in the region," he said.

Lu Yixuan, chairman of the board of directors of Yunnan Jinrui Seed Industry Co Ltd, said the super soft rice bred in Yunnan, a plateau province at a low latitude, is ideally suited to the climate in Southeast Asia and can help raise the yield, he says. "The yields from the new variety could be around 225 tons a hectare and we have already received interest from farmers in Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia," Lu said. "We have also sent technicians to instruct the ASEAN farmers on how to grow the super soft rice."

Viraporn Mongkolchaisit, division director of the National Science and Technology Development Agency of Thailand, says that her institute has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences to jointly cultivate expertise. Each year, the agency deputes three researchers to Sichuan and trains five Sichuan scientists in modern breeding techniques, she says.

"We have been working on new breeds resistant to bacterial wilt such as chili, cucumber and bitter gourd. The new varieties have higher yields and better taste as we found the antibodies against disease can keep the plant growing more safely," she said.

Lu Zhizhong, a technician from the international business department of Hubei Seeds Group says his company has exported 5,000 tons of hybrid rice seeds to countries in Southeast and South Asia, more than 30 times the amount in 2002.

In 2002, the Hubei Seeds Group became the first company to obtain an export certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture. "Seeds, unlike food, are usually governed by customs," he said. "Our seeds are of superb quality and have passed all the required inspection and quarantine tests for exports to Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Bangladesh."

Some countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan have huge demand for high-yield seeds to feed their large population while their land is limited, Lu said.

However, obstacles still remain. Lu says that though Thailand is well known for its high-quality rice, it is reluctant to release its germplasm resources, while the marketing system is not that efficient in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

Jin Ke from the CAAS suggests that both sides step up bilateral exchanges in agricultural professional training and degree courses. Some joint laboratories and research centers can also be set up to further explore the role of agricultural technology transfer, he said.