In November, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs website featured visits by Minister Han Changfu to Beijing research centers operated by the two companies to tout China's hope for technology to overcome challenges such as pest pressures, increasingly scarce and unreliable workers, and chaotic supply chains.
|Han Changfu visits Syngenta research center. Photo: Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.|
Minister Han first visited a plant-breeding lab and greenhouse at a Beijing research center operated by Syngenta, the Swiss seed and agrochemical giant acquired by the State-owned China National Chemical Corporation, aka ChemChina in 2016--China's biggest-ever overseas acquisition. According to the article, Syngenta's resources have been integrated into Chinese agriculture since it was acquired by ChemChina. Han hoped the company's investments in R&D and hoped would play a role in high-quality agricultural development, attack key problems and bottlenecks, and render technical assistance to farmers.
Minister Han emphasized the central communist party leadership's keen interest in agricultural technology and institutional innovation. He praised ChemChina as a large state-owned enterprise with a long history of engagement in agriculture with many achievements, and expressed hope that the company would make a major contribution to accelerated modernization of agriculture. The Minister specifically cited ChemChina's plant protection product for wheat scab and noted the importance of addressing pest and disease risks to maintain the quantity and quality of crop production.
There was no mention of the $12-billion debt load taken on in the Syngenta acquisition that has reportedly held up a planned merger of ChemChina with Sinochem. China's ambassador to Switzerland reportedly labeled the deal a "mistake" and suggested the Swiss could have their company back if they wanted it. Nor was there discussion of how ChemChina--the country's largest pesticide and fungicide producer--would be affected by the Ministry's initiative to curb pesticide use.
Minister Han's second visit was to a Huawei R&D Center in Beijing where he learned about the prospects for utilizing 5G technology for agriculture, e-government, and big data during his visit to a "Huawei Strategic Vision Showroom." Han learned about application of 5G in Norway fish farms that use underwater UHD cameras to monitor the fish, increasing the precision of management and reducing personnel requirements. A second example was the use of blockchain in a pilot traceability project for rice in Jilin Province.
Han envisions Huawei as a leader in "smart" agriculture, internet of things, and rural data platforms. He asserted that "rural revitalization" cannot be achieved without informatization, artificial intelligence, and big data in agriculture. This all assumes that the workers remember to turn the machines on and replace the batteries, the electricity doesn't go out, everyone knows how to interpret the data on the screens, and the drones don't get stuck in the trees.