An aerial view of the Sanya Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City in South China's Hainan Province Photo: Courtesy of Administrative Bureau of Sanya Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City

An aerial view of the Sanya Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City in South China’s Hainan Province Photo: Courtesy of Administrative Bureau of Sanya Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City

Soybean seeds undergoing genetic modification experiments in a lab at Longping Biotechnology (Hainan) Co in Sanya, South China's Hainan Province. Photo: Zhao Juecheng/GT

Soybean seeds present process genetic modification experiments in a lab at Longping Biotechnology (Hainan) Co in Sanya, South China’s Hainan Province. Photo: Zhao Juecheng/GT

About 30 years in the past when Li was nonetheless slightly boy, he remembered a time when many agricultural researchers throughout the nation got here to his hometown in Sanya’s Yazhou district, South China’s Hainan Province, for plant breeding, as a result of the tropical island province may help shorten the breeding cycle of a range by one third or a half.

“I cannot forget that a researcher from North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region cried very sadly when the sorghum he planted was mostly eaten by sparrows, and from that moment on, I came to know that my hometown would become a key national breeding base,” Li, now a taxi driver, advised the Global Times in the course of the journey from Yazhou station to the Nanfan Technology City in the district.

Taking the imaginative and prescient of making a “Silicon Valley” for the Chinese seed trade, the Nanfan Technology City goals to create a brand new engine for the innovation and improvement of the seed trade with science and know-how as core. 

Nanfan, which means breeding in the south in Chinese, has turn into the nation’s largest southern breeding base for the reason that mid-Nineteen Seventies due to native tropical local weather and wealthy organic sources. Every yr, from September to May, greater than 8,000 agricultural scientists and staff from 700 establishments throughout the nation will congregate on the breeding heart. 

For Nanfan, its function has upgraded from a conventional breeding heart to a platform showcasing strategic scientific and technological power particularly amid worldwide state of affairs over current few years that pushes China to intention for self-sufficiency of seed sources, to know the “biological chip” in its personal palms, specialists advised the Global Times.

Data from the Administrative Bureau of Sanya Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City confirmed that Nanfan, one of many main initiatives of the Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City, has attracted round 12 high-level agricultural establishments, a slew of well-known agricultural corporations domestically and overseas together with German crop breeder KWS, Keygene from the Netherlands, and Syngenta Group China in addition to Yuan Long Ping High-Tech Agriculture Co.

Breakthrough options

For the primary time, seed safety appeared as an impartial chapter in the nation’s official doc on agricultural affairs this yr, additionally referred to as the yr’s “No. 1 central document.”

Seed high quality is of nice significance to the nationwide safety, meals safety, in addition to financial and social safety of China, the world’s greatest grain market.

He Guohua, chief planner of the Administrative Bureau of Sanya Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City, advised the Global Times that lots of China’s seed sources are reliant on imports, and it was not paid a lot consideration till current few years when the worldwide commerce atmosphere turned to be not that pleasant particularly amid the US-led commerce protectionism below the Trump administration. 

“It was a wake-up call for us to realize that apart from semiconductor, the cutthroat seed technology is also not in our hands, and that we badly need to make efforts toward that direction,” He stated, and that’s the reason the Nanfan “Silicon Valley” shoulders the accountability of technological innovation.

For Lu Yuping, vice chairman of Yuan Long Ping High-Tech Agriculture Co and normal supervisor of start-up Longping Biotechnology (Hainan) Co, who got here again to China in 2010 after his learning and dealing in US for over 15 years, the perfect second has come to dedicate himself to the nationwide course to win a turnaround in the seed trade that China has main hole with different nations.

For some species like rice, China has ample seed sources and robust breeding know-how, but for different species together with corn and soybeans, the nation’s investment and output can’t compete with overseas nations particularly the US, Lu stated, taking the instance of soybean.

“Soybean originated in China and we once had abundant seed resources. However, with China’s reform and opening up, many soybean seeds were lost to foreign countries, which conducted research and development on soybean for several decades in a low-key way,” he famous.

Prior to 1991, China was nonetheless a web exporter of soybeans , Lu stated, and its imports of soybean climbed steadily from 1 million tons in 1995 to 100 million tons in 2020. China imported a complete of 100.33 million tons of soybeans final yr, exceeding 100 million tons for the primary time, customs information confirmed.

Similar import state of affairs additionally occurred in corn.

The nation purchased a report 11.3 million tons of imported corn final yr, customs information confirmed. In the primary quarter of 2021, China imported 6.73 million tons of corn, a rise of 437.8 % year-on-year, whereas the nation’s annual import quota is 7.2 million tons.

“This year would extend last year’s import momentum, which is likely to break through 30 million tons,” Lu stated. “The robust demand for soybean and corn, two important sources of fodder for hogs, has become quite important last year with the breeding rebound in post-ASF (African swine fever) period.”

As one of many first batch of biotechnology corporations that settled in the Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City, Longping Biotechnology (Hainan) has submitted greater than 10 nationwide invention patents, whereas aiming for planting 4 generations of corn in a yr in Hainan. The start-up primarily focuses on the analysis of genetical modified corn and soybean.

China’s germplasm sources are primarily from native species, that are simply outcompeted by modified breeds which have particular traits, in response to Lu.

Equipped with sole genetic modification (GM) know-how, the yield of corn and soybean could possibly be boosted by 15-30 %, due to the existence of recent genes which have traits that may defend the grain from weed and pest. Currently, China’s corn and soybean output was about 40-60 % that of overseas nations, he added.

To actually embark on a brand new period of improvement throughout the seed trade to safeguard the nation’s meals safety, large investment and basic R&D on breeding know-how are two indispensable components. 

“Compared with transnational agricultural giants like US’ Monsanto which maintained an investment of over 10 billion yuan ($1.56 billion) annually, Chinese peers’ investment remains small. For this part, the nation should support financially since businesses lack such huge amount of money,” Lu stated.

Furthermore, “R&D on breeding technology is the cornerstone without which we cannot achieve self-sufficiency. Over the past decades, the US has taken a leap in the technology and compiled a ‘dictionary’ of genes, which we cannot obtain,” he famous, stressing the efforts that Chinese analysis institutes and corporations ought to begin compiling its personal “dictionary”.

“We need to prepare mentally for a decade or two to devote ourselves in the course.”

Although the commercialization of GM know-how has not been greenlighted in China, Lu believed that it’s going to have a vibrant prospect in the world’s largest grains market.

In June 2020, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs issued GM security certificates for two new kinds of soybean imports, an indication of additional loosening restrictions on GM crops.

Transfer base

On a small man-made island formed like a crescent moon off the coast of Yazhou Bay, fashionable buildings are rising from the bottom. Named Moon Island, it’s enjoying the function as a switch base.

“It is the first line of defense for foreign germplasm resources entering the country in the future. Meanwhile, we are introducing internationally recognized testing organizations for domestic germplasm resources to go global,” stated chief planner He.

On high of that, the bottom additionally undertakes worldwide testing companies. For instance, when US’ seeds are to be exported to Southeast Asian nations, the latter lack an entire inspection and quarantine company, so they should entrust a Chinese company to conduct checks earlier than the export, He famous.

In May 2020, the bottom realized its first import enterprise of crop seeds for scientific analysis. Longping Biotechnology launched 230 kilograms of crop seeds from Brazil after about 4 months of quarantine and checks.

The Chinese agency imported Brazilian native industrial varieties, and back-bred the organic breeding “chips” developed by itself into the Brazilian varieties, after which exported them to Brazil, the place native agency will conduct pest-resistance experiment and apply for approval for commercialization in Brazil. 

“Compared with grain, the unit value of seeds is very high, several times or even dozens of times that of ordinary grain, so exports of quality seeds have a lot more value,” He stated, “meanwhile we import grain from foreign countries to meet domestic demand.”