Facing increasing competition from foreign companies, vegetable seed researchers and producers in China should focus more on innovations if they are to avoid the country's food security being compromised, industry insiders have warned.
"Foreign companies occupy about one-fifth of the domestic vegetable seed market valued at about 10 billion yuan (1.6 billion U.S. dollars) each year. And their share continues to increase," said Sun Deling, vice president of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Tianjin, one of China's centers for seed production.
Foreign firms entered the Chinese vegetable seed market in the late 1980s. After decades of development, they have almost monopolized the standard and high-end seed market, added Sun, stressing the implications this has for the security of the country's vegetable seed industry.
"Vegetable seeds sold by the kg in the past, later by the gram, and now even by the grain," said the researcher.
"More than a decade ago, the most expensive cauliflower seed was 200 yuan per kg. But now, seeds of the vegetable sell for 15,000 yuan to 20,000 yuan per kg among foreign companies," he said.
Premium seeds fetch high prices. Foreign players occupy about 80 percent of the domestic high-end seed market, according to Ma Dehua, general manger of Derit Seed Co. Ltd. in Tianjin.
For example, a type of tomato seed imported from Britain sells for 330 yuan per gram on Chinese online shopping platform Taobao. The price is even higher than that of gold in the Chinese market.