China will carry out a three-year census of its agricultural germplasm resources as it seeks to reduce its reliance on imports amid heightened national security concerns.
Germplasm are living genetic resources such as seeds or tissues that are maintained for the purpose of animal and plant breeding, preservation and other research uses.
The study will be conducted by the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs, which said there was a gap between China’s resources and those of other countries. China’s push for industrialisation and urbanisation had led to major changes in the quantities and distribution of germplasm resources, some of which faced becoming extinct, it said.
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“To achieve self-sufficiency of seed resources, the country must strengthen the protection and use of germplasm resources, which makes the census a most urgent task,” the ministry said.
“Competition in the seed industry is the battle of science and technology. The country that has more varieties of quality resources will have the advantage of breeding varieties and win the seed industry competition,” it said.
The survey would cover crop, livestock and aquatic germplasm resources to provide a clear picture of the various types, quantities, traits and distribution, the ministry said.
China has conducted surveys of crops and livestock before, but the new census will be the first to include aquatic germplasm resources.
Chinese vice-premier Hu Chunhua on Tuesday called for strong measures to promote the census and protection of crop germplasm resources to consolidate the seed industry.
A national crop-germplasm resources catalogue should be created to protect the resources scientifically, he said.
The ministry said the region around the Qinghai-Tibet plateau and other remote areas, which were not covered by previous surveys, would be the focus of the census.
Wan Jianmin, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said China had more than 520,000 preserved resources, but fewer than 15,000 had been accurately identified.
In carrying out germplasm technology research, the primary solution was to protect and utilise germplasm resources, he said, adding that China was dependent on other countries for some germplasm.
“Improvements need to be made on various fronts, including intellectual property protection and technological innovations,” Wan said.
Ma Wenfeng, a senior analyst from Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant, which works with the agriculture ministry, said China lagged behind other nations in terms of seed quality, so it was important to conduct a census to establish a clear position.
“Our country’s agricultural productivity has been declining, the output per unit area, labour, capital, has been decreasing,” he said.
“I have submitted reports to the central government. To solve the problem, we should improve the quality of seeds, optimise the planting process and strengthen the agricultural infrastructure.
“We are rich in breeding resources but not in high quality. Our country is very large, with sufficient biological resources but there are problems with our academic system, resulting in resources not being converted into the productivity of industry. Both basic research in universities and applied research in enterprises are not doing well,” he said.
“A technology war is the result of the backwardness in recent years,” Ma said. “Improving the quality of seeds is the first step, and there is still a long way to go to bolster food security.”
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