Vegetable seed researchers, producers in China should focus more on innovations if they are to avoid country's food security being compromised, industry insiders warn

TIANJIN, China , November 15, 2013 () – Facing increasing competition from foreign companies, vegetable seed researchers and producers in China should focus more on innovations if they are to avoid the country's food security being compromised, industry insiders have warned.

"Foreign companies occupy about one-fifth of the domestic vegetable seed market valued at about 10 billion yuan (1.6 billion U.S. dollars) each year. And their share continues to increase," said Sun Deling, vice president of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Tianjin, one of China's centers for seed production.

Foreign firms entered the Chinese vegetable seed market in the late 1980s. After decades of development, they have almost monopolized the standard and high-end seed market, added Sun, stressing the implications this has for the security of the country's vegetable seed industry.

"Vegetable seeds sold by the kg in the past, later by the gram, and now even by the grain," said the researcher.

"More than a decade ago, the most expensive cauliflower seed was 200 yuan per kg. But now, seeds of the vegetable sell for 15,000 yuan to 20,000 yuan per kg among foreign companies," he said.

Premium seeds fetch high prices. Foreign players occupy about 80 percent of the domestic high-end seed market, according to Ma Dehua, general manger of Derit Seed Co. Ltd. in Tianjin.

For example, a type of tomato seed imported from Britain sells for 330 yuan per gram on Chinese online shopping platform Taobao. The price is even higher than that of gold in the Chinese market.

The high crops output from seeds of foreign firms attracts Chinese vegetable growers. To plant one mu (Chinese unit of area, with one hectare equal to 15 mu) of tomatoes, a farmer will need to spend 1,200 yuan for foreign seeds, but just 20 yuan for domestic equivalents.

Yet the output of the vegetable from foreign seeds will be 10,000 yuan to 20,000 yuan more than that of domestic seeds, according to Ma.

"Seeds contribute more than 50 percent to increases in output and quality. If seeds are controlled by others, national security will be threatened," Sun warned.

Some experts cited problems in the domestic seed industry.

Seed research institutions have access to a lot of government subsidies and have talented staff, but the commercialization of their scientific research achievements needs to be improved, according to Fu Runting, Communist Party chief of the Tianjin Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

"In contrast, it is difficult for private seed companies to obtain government subsidies," said Fu.

Furthermore, growers complain of rampant plagiarism in the sector.

"When we want to sell new types of seeds on the market, we are always in fear of having them copied by others seeking to compete with us," said Ji Heliang, general manager of another Tianjin-based seed firm, Gengyun Seed Company.

The domestic vegetable seed industry needs self-improvement, with more investment and better commercialization of research, Fu believes.

He added that support should be given to private companies, and that intellectual property rights need effective protection.

"The seed industry is basic and needs a strategic view. Otherwise, dangers will come," warned Ma.

(c) 2013 Xinhua News Agency

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