GRAIN | 10 July 2009 | Hybrid rice files (2002-2010)
China has been busy as of late in promoting its hybrid rice seeds overseas. There has been a flurry of international conferences, training programmes, and deals for technical cooperation (see below). Among these is a deal between a United Nations (UN) institution and the Chinese government that, with its UN sanction, adds a new dimension to China's foreign hybrid rice ambitions.
Under an agreement announced during an April 2009 meeting of the UN's Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Beijing and ESCAP's Asian and Pacific Centre for Agricultural Engineering and Machinery (APCAEM) will join forces in a multi-year project to "transfer technology" and "extend hybrid rice cultivation to selected experts of 12 countries in the region". According to APCAEM Senior Expert Ai Yuxin, the project is to be launched by early September 2009, once APCAEM secures the financial commitments, and will initially focus on Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia.
From the little that has been revealed about the project, it looks much like other hybrid rice programmes China has launched overseas. The project will be backed with money from Beijing and it will focus on the promotion of Chinese hybrid varieties. According to one report, the project will channel funds to several Chinese companies to enable them to set up hybrid rice production in the targeted countries.
What is different here however is that this project will come under the aegis of the UN and it will pump in a considerable flow of new funds for the promotion of hybrid rice within Asia, including in countries where hybrid rice has made few in-roads so far, such as Laos and Cambodia.
Some of China's recent initiatives to promote hybrid rice overseas:
- In March 2009, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) signed an agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on an international cooperation program for "breeding green super rice for regions in Africa and Asia with scant resources". The $18 million program will breed 15 new rice varieties and promote and disseminate these hybrid rice seeds in target countries.
- In February 2009, Pakistan and China signed an agreement for cooperation in the development of hybrid rice during a visit of President Asif Ali Zardari to Beijing. A similar agreement on hybrid wheat was signed in June 2009.
- In early 2009, Venezuela and China signed an agreement for the development of hybrid rice production in the State of Barinas as part of a larger series of cooperation agreements. Under the agreement, $8.5 million will be invested in an irrigation scheme that will allow 1,400 hectares to be planted with hybrid seeds of rice and maize, which will be developed under another $2.4 million seeds project led by the Chinese. Several delegations of Chinese technical experts have been sent to Venezuela to oversee the implementation of the project. Initial meetings on hybrid rice production took place between the Venezuelan government and a Chinese seed company as far back as February 2008.
- In June 2009, Yuan Longping announced that Xiangtan City and Yuan Longping Hi-tech Agriculture Co had agreed to establish a $700 million industrial park, known as the National Longping Hi-tech Park. It aims to house top national and foreign TNCs and will host an International Forum on Hybrid Rice Research that Longping intends to turn into an annual event to " explore the issue of grain security throughout the world". Already this year, in May, the Yuan Longping High-tech Agriculture Co. opened a training course on Hybrid Rice Technology for Developing Countries, sponsored by China's Ministry of Commerce. It brought 30 participants from 16 countries, including the Philippines, Thailand, Nepal, and Vietnam.
- In May 2009, China's Tian YiDa Group began negotiations with the government of the State of Sabah, Malaysia for a joint venture for hybrid rice production. A representative of the company said it has vast experience in rice cultivation and that it has a partnership with Yuan Longping High-Tech Agriculture Co.