China Aims to Feed People via Technology Innovation

by Xinhua writers Cheng Zhiliang and Hai Mingwei

China has thus far succeeded in feeding nearly one-fifth of the world’s population with less than 9 percent of the world’s total land. However, it has become clear that scientific and technological innovation will be necessary if China wishes to feed its population in the future.

China’s central authorities on Wednesday issued their first policy document for 2012, which highlights the role of science and technology in agriculture and states that science and technology are the “ultimate way” to ensure sustainable agricultural development and long-term sufficient supplies of farm produce.

“The document is expected to be followed by a string of policies, which will result in a boom in the development of agricultural science and technology,” said Dang Guoying, a rural development researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The issuance of the document, as well as remarks by top officials and a rural work conference held in recent months, are a signal that the government is gravely concerned with food safety and is paying more attention to the development of agricultural technology.

“Considering all the factors, it will be an arduous task to find a balance between supply and demand for farm produce in the future,” said Premier Wen Jiabao in an article about rural development published last month.

The public will need more and safer farm produce due to a growing population, increased urbanization, improved living standards and the consumption of farm produce for industrial purposes, Wen said.

Agricultural development has been hindered by shortages in land and water resources, growing production costs, a decreased labor force, environmental pollution and ecological degradation.

Global agricultural output, oil prices, venture capital speculation and currency exchange rate fluctuations have also had a significant influence on China’s farm produce market.

“Agriculture in China has entered a new stage in which science and technology have become more important factors in breaking through resource and environmental restrictions and achieving sustainable and stable development,” Wen said.

To ensure an effective supply of agricultural products is vital to the country’s overall strategic development amid a complicated global economic situation, the deepening influence of global climate change and increasing shortages of arable land and water at home, according to the policy document.

AGRICULTURAL ACHIEVEMENTS

Science and technology have played a vital role in boosting the country’s agricultural output. China’s grain output rose to a record high of 571.21 million tonnes in 2011. The figure represented a year-on-year increase of 4.5 percent and marked the eighth consecutive year of growth for the country’s grain output.

In southwest China’s Sichuan province, a research group has been testing a new variety of wheat called “chuanmai 42.” Dr. Tang Yonglu, a researcher from the Sichuan Provincial Academy of Agricultural Sciences and head of the group, said the group recorded an average output of 500 kg per mu (666.7 square meters) after growing the new variety last year.

Wheat output stood at about 300 kg per mu in Sichuan before the new wheat was developed.

Yuan Longping, known as the “father of hybrid rice,” has been developing hybrid rice since the 1960s as part of the country’s efforts to combat starvation. Chinese farmers saw incredible rice output after switching to Yuan’s hybrid rice.

Yuan’s team achieved a target unit yield of 900 kg of rice per mu in 2011, setting a new world record.

Yuan’s hybrid rice has been planted in India, Vietnam and the United States, covering a total of three million hectares of land. Yuan has said that an additional 75 million hectares would be enough to feed 400 million to 500 million people.

Despite these notable achievements, China’s agricultural science and technology are “generally at a low level,” said Guo Xiaoming, an agricultural economist with the Sichuan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

Agriculture has become more dependent on science and technology in the last several decades, but China has not invested enough in the area, he said. A lack of common interests between local government departments and farmers has also made it difficult to disseminate and implement new technology, according to Guo.

More than 90 percent of the seeds used to grow high-end vegetables and flowers, as well as genetic material used to breed high-quality pigs, chickens and cows, are imported to China from other countries.

China’s urban population outnumbered that of rural areas for the first time as of the end of 2011, meaning there are fewer workers in rural areas for agricultural companies to hire. The Ministry of Agriculture has expressed worry that there may not be enough available farmhands in the future to keep up with agricultural production.

In the face of these challenges, the policy document said the government will continue to expand its fiscal budget for agriculture in 2012 and direct more of the country’s fixed-asset investment toward the sector.

It said the government should play a leading role in investing in agricultural science and ensure that the investment will create “significantly” faster growth compared to fiscal revenues.

Government investment will boost the development of both agricultural technology and basic research that focuses on farm product safety, the efficient use of farmland, ecological restoration and genetic regulation, according to the document.

The government is also eyeing major achievements in the development of agricultural biotechnology, breeding, new materials, precision farming, water-saving irrigation, new fertilizers, epidemic control, marine agriculture, product processing and farming equipment.

Particular emphasis will be given to scientific innovation in seed production, the document said.

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