Sunday, November 28, 2021

China's Seed Nationalism

China is scouring the countryside to find native seed, animal and fish genetic resources in a national germplasm census according to Economy Daily, a communist party news outlet. The purpose is to protect "family property" and gain self-reliance in crop and animal breeding. "Excellent" plant and animal resources will be protected on company-run farms if they are in danger of extinction or turned over to Chinese seed and breeding companies to exploit their commercial potential to propel Chinese seed companies as global competitors. 

Improvement of China's seed industry is one of the national priorities set at last December's planning meeting for economic work this year. The germplasm census launched in March 2021 was one of the activities ordered by this year's "Document Number One" issued by China's central communist party leadership. The germplasm census is expected to be completed in 3 years. The activity is canvassing all Chinese counties to draw up a list of plant, livestock-poultry, and aquatic animal germplasm. Today, an expert committee was charged with identifying 10 major plant resources, 10 major livestock/poultry resources, and 10 major aquatic animal resources. 

An agriculture ministry official said, "Some of these resources are old, some are rare and endangered, and some carry farming civilization and traditional culture; [the activity] fills gaps in the census of livestock and poultry genetic resources on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau."

As an example, the official cited abundant sheep resources of the Tibetan plateau, including animals adapted to high altitude, rough fodder, disease resistance and strong physique. Others include several species of fish in the Yangtze River, a duck from Zhongshan, and a Shanghai water buffalo breed. 

A National Crop Germplasm Bank was established at the Institute of Crop Science of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Data will be archived, digitized, and accessible via intelligent computing, according to Economy Daily. Plans include nine regional gene banks in key provinces and a national livestock and poultry germplasm resource bank.

Foreign research institutes and multinational companies should not expect to gain easy access to these resources. Economy Daily calls germplasm "family property." Economy Daily emphasizes that "control of germplasm resources and self-reliance are urgent tasks of great significance in the fight for a good turnaround in the seed industry and to promote the revitalization of the seed industry. 

The next step will be for agriculture ministry authorities to conduct performance testing of the germplasm resources to evaluate their commercial potential for breeding new varieties. 

It was probably not coincidental that the Economy Daily article came several days after last week's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs meeting to emphasize progress on supporting China's seed industry to create a strong backbone industry chaired by Minister Tang Renjian. The meeting considered how to implement Xi Jinping's important directive to "concentrate resources, science and technology, personnel, and capital in key seed accelerate a new pattern for their development." The meeting emphasized that companies are the main innovators and are expected to supply "their own seeds" to the market, become internationally-competitive dragon heads, and a few should emerge as "aircraft carriers" in the global seed industry. The meeting called for supporting R&D and strengthening seed/breed resources for corn, soybean, swine, and dairy cattle breeding where Chinese companies are behind foreign counterparts. 

Central and local authorities should encourage and guide research institutes, banks, and production bases to link up with seed companies to help them develop through the "two hands" of market and government and protect intellectual property rights by cracking down on fake seeds. Officials were ordered to craft policies to support specific companies. Companies were ordered to seize opportunities, pool resources, and work toward national objectives of self-reliance in seed resources, upgrading science and technology, and raising China's core competitiveness in the seed industry.

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