Friday, September 11, 2015

China: Agriculture Vice Minister calls for stronger cooperation with IRRI to safeguard global food security

International cooperation in areas of research and technology should be strengthened to ensure global food security, China’s Vice Minister of Agriculture has suggested.

“Global food security, including China’s, is facing many new emerging challenges,” said Vice Minister Chen Xiaohua during his visit at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters on 10 September. “An important solution to these challenges is science and technology.”

Vice Minister Chen led a delegation of government officials to explore a renewed partnership between China and IRRI.  Scientific collaboration between the two was formalized in 1976 when an IRRI delegation went to China and visited national rice research agencies as well as farmers in rice-growing communes. The collaboration paved the way for the development of the country’s rice economy.

“I clearly see the important contribution of IRRI in the global rice industry,” he said. “For decades, experts at IRRI have developed dozens of rice varieties that benefited the agricultural situation in many countries.”

Throughout its history, IRRI has attached a great importance to its friendly ties with Chinese scientists and research institutions through cooperation agreements, according to the Vice Minister. The Institute has provided China with many genetic resources that extensively supported the country’s rice breeding program, and its food and agricultural development, he added.

China has achieved great strides in its rice production. It is the world’s largest producer of rice, harvesting more than 207 million tons in 2014. The country’s average rice yield is at 6.5 tons per hectare—among the highest in Asia. “China has achieved 11 consecutive years of growth in grain production,” Vice Minister Chen reported. However, he also acknowledged that China’s agriculture development could face “multiple challenges” and “many uncertainties.” These include growing consumption, increasing cost of labor and food production, trade policies, and pressures on the environment.

“We need to embark on a sustainable growth and improving the efficiency of agricultural production,” he said.

Robert Zeigler, IRRI director general, remarked that most of the world, particularly Asian countries, are increasingly tackling the same problems. “For China to continue to be food-secure, it will have to correct the many problems it faces and adapt to the challenges of climate change,”  Zeigler said. “Many of the projects that IRRI had conducted and will conduct in the future can help address many of these problems.”

Mathew Morell, deputy director general for research at IRRI, identified some research areas for major collaboration with China: mobile communication technology, genomics and biological revolution, satellite remote sensing, big data, and climate change actions.

“There must be a continued strong emphasis on science and technology for food security,” Morell said. “We need to deliver these rice technologies to those who need it the most.”

The Vice Minister agreed with the research priorities Morell presented and said that these largely reflect their own priorities.

“In the past, Chinese research institutes have conducted very good collaborations with IRRI.  We should build on what we already have and take bigger strides,” said Vice Minister Chen. “Cooperation will benefit both of us in the future.  We should conduct discussions in the renewal of our memorandum of understanding.   We need to work out our cooperation policies and model as soon as possible. In this way, our relationship can be deepened.”

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