Thursday, October 29, 2009

China to be a Leader in Ag Science?

The mantra of China's current administration is "scientific development." The implicit assumption is that all problems can be solved by science and technology. And it has to be Chinese technology, not from Dupont, Monsanto, Pioneer, or some other foreign company.

This week, China's Ministry of Agriculture is trumpeting its ambitions to be a leader in science and technology.

On October 26, a meeting on national agricultural science and technology innovation and dissemination work. The Minister of Agriculture, Sun Zhengcai, said China will strive to become a world leader in agricultural science and technology in the next 10 years or so, relying on science and technology with "Chinese characteristics" suited to the special situation of the country and the industry. The speech calls for support for creating agricultural innovations that increase the productive capacity of agriculture. An interesting phrase is the reference to independent innovation--not sure what this means, whether it refers to independence of researchers or China's independence from the global biotech industry. Another facet is building a system to disseminate technology and science to farmers. There is a lot of reference to "service." This may be related to another big push going on to develop farmer cooperatives--many of them are attached to extension stations and technology service is a big part of the rhetoric in that movement. There were a number of other articles about agricultural innovation on the MOA web site this week I haven't had a chance to read.

Another prominent announcement on the Ministry of Agriculture web site today is about the construction of the Ministry's National Agricultural Transgenic Biological Safety Evaluation and Testing Center. This is a big center that will have laboratories to test the composition of transgenic agricultural products and their safety for food and the environment. (As an interesting aside, the project got special funding from China's stimulus package.) The center is expected to be the domestic authority on assessing transgenic crops and animals and to be a world leader in publicizing and regulating transgenic safety, setting standards and issuing "emergency alerts."

China has big ambitions to be a player in agricultural science and technology. They don't plan to sit by and let multinationals sell them seeds and biotech crops. But can shiny buildings filled with imported lab equipment make China a leader? The big problem is that the best and brightest Chinese researchers are exported--they're mostly working in labs in the U.S. and Europe. Can government-run Chinese labs compete with huge companies that have hundreds of years of experience in the business?

No comments: