Norwegian-Chinese collaboration on food and biotechnology

Norwegian-Chinese collaboration on food and biotechnology

Fra forsøksfeltene hvor hybridrisen utvikles. Foto: Ragnar Våga Pedersen.

Photo: Ragnar Vaaga Pedersen

One of the greatest challenges facing humanity is to provide food for a steadily growing population. The solution is to produce more food per unit area of land, according to Chinese Nobel Peace Prize nominee Professor Longping Yuan.

 

By Ragnar Våga Pedersen

Bioforsk and Hunan Hybrid Rice Research Centre (HHRRC) have signed an agreement to build a collaboration on issues related to food production, plant health and biotechnology.

Professor Longping Yuan, who is in charge of the Centre, is recognised as the founding father of hybrid rice and is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 alongside Professor M.S. Swaminathan.

 

More food in the same space

Population growth and continually decreasing land for food production are issues which put a great strain on food security.

“Advances in irrigation, fertilization and cultivation contribute towards increasingly bigger crops. But what is the most effective and profitable is to develop the best possible strains. Our solution is hybrid rice, where properties from different varieties of rice - both wild and domesticated - are used to develop an optimal plant adapted to the growing conditions the plant is used to. Such strains could contribute to a significant increase in crops,” the Professor explains.

A good crop in Southeast Asia may be around 6 tonnes (in some countries significantly lower), while good hybrid rice crops would be around 12-15 tonnes. In China, more than 60% of the population has rice as their primary food source. Hence, this is of great importance.

 

Cooperation Norway - China

Bioforsk’s China-coordinator, senior research scientist Jihong Liu Clarke, says she is pleased that the collaboration has been established. “Our Chinese collaborative partner has great knowledge in the fields of biotechnology and strain development. It is fascinating to have the opportunity to exchange experience and knowledge in these areas,” says Clarke.

“Bioforsk has also developed technology that will alert producers when crops are under attack from pests, such as insects or fungal diseases. Our models and our technology can also be adapted to rice production in China. This could lead to a reduction in the use of pesticides and smaller losses related to plant diseases and pests,” she explains.

“This is knowledge that the Chinese are interested in getting access to - and we are exploring the possibilities of developing models adapted to their production further,” says Jihong Liu Clarke.

 

Professor Longping Yuan, Ambassador Svein O. Sæther and Research Director Nils Vagstad at the opening of the symposium in Sanya. HHRRC and Bioforsk exchanged scientific views for several days. Photo: Ragnar Våga Pedersen

 

Chinese investment

“It is important for the entire world that China is able to produce its own food,” says Research Director at Bioforsk, Nils Vagstad.

“They have made outstanding progress thanks to large investments in science and technology, as well as the great effort from scientists such as Professor Long Ping Yuan.”

“Agriculture, food security and food safety play a crucial role in a further positive development of the Chinese society. Simultaneously, the authorities have a strong focus on research. My starting point is therefore that those who wish to contribute to these important areas in the future need to be actively present in the Chinese research network. This will give us a foothold within the leading international research,” Vagstad believes.

He points out that for several years, Bioforsk has focused on the long term strategy in developing good relations with China.

“Most people now see that China is developing into a superpower - also within research, technological development and innovation.

“Despite being small, our experience and knowledge is also relevant to many of the challenges China faces. These include, for instance, modernising small-scale family farms and combining environmental considerations with additional production increases,” says Research Director Nils Vagstad Bioforsk .

 

Facts:

Bioforsk and HHRRC organised a two-day symposium related to technology and research on rice production, strain development, biotechnology and plant health. The symposium was held in April 2014 in the province of Hainan in the south of China. Bioforsk and HHRRC signed an agreement to continue pursuing the professional collaboration. The symposium and the current collaboration are funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Embassy in Beijing.