Feature: Reciprocal cooperation between China, int'l agricultural research agency safeguards food security

Photo taken  on Nov. 7, 2022 of Bram Govaerts, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Texcoco, in central Mexico's State of Mexico. (Xinhua/Zhu Yubo)

In 2016, CIMMYT received China's International Science and Technology Cooperation Award. In the view of Bram Govaerts, director general of CIMMYT, the collaboration with China can be regarded as one of the mutually beneficial examples of working together to safeguard the world's food security.

MEXICO CITY, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- Outside the city of Texcoco in central Mexico, Chinese expert He Xinyao is shifting his focus from experimental fields at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to greenhouses, as the wheat growing season ended this month here.

Inside the greenhouses, pots of wheat are arranged neatly, with labels of different colors attached.

"This wheat plant next to me is infected with wheat scab," he told Xinhua, adding that in China, only mid lower reaches of the Yangtze River were the high-incidence places of the disease, but in recent years, due to factors such as climate change, the disease has also become increasingly serious in the Yellow River Basin, the country's main wheat-producing area.

According to He, a wheat pathologist and geneticist, wheat scab is commonly seen in many places around the world, and when the epidemic is serious, it could even lead to extinction, and also produce toxins harmful to people and animals, thus threatening the world's grain security and food safety.

Focusing on wheat disease resistance research, He has been working at CIMMYT since 2011, and with the vast germplasm resources here, He and his team work to experiment and select varieties with greater disease resistance for delivery to farmers worldwide, including China, and then collect data on the performance of these varieties for further improvement.

Conserved in cool temperature, over 28,000 unique seed collections of maize and 150,000 of wheat are kept in CIMMYT's own germplasm bank, to keep the genetic diversity of the principal cereal crops for humankind and also for crop-breeding research around the world.

"We have many accessions of germplasm from China," Carolina Paola Sansaloni, Wheat Germplasm Bank curator and genotyping specialist with CIMMYT, told Xinhua, as she demonstrated the maize accession sample case with a Chinese national flag on it.

Data from the center showed that China has provided thousands of wheat germplasm resources to the institute. Meanwhile, since the year of 2000, about 26 percent of the wheat grown in China has strong association to the varieties of the center, and 13 new maize varieties jointly bred by both sides have been planted in countries including Nepal, helping to increase local food production and incomes.

Established in 1966, the Texcoco-based institute is a non-profit international organization focused on applied agricultural research and training. Its germplasm is broadly used in both developing and developed countries due to high yield potential, broad adaption, and disease resistance.

In 1974, China and CIMMYT established research partnership. Since then, more than 20 Chinese institutes have become collaborators of CIMMYT, and over 5,000 Chinese researchers and graduate students have been jointly trained by the two sides, which brought world experience to China's agricultural development.

There are now two resident Chinese researchers and several Chinese exchange scholars in the center's headquarters, giving back to the world the Chinese way of food security.

In 2016, CIMMYT received China's International Science and Technology Cooperation Award. In the view of Bram Govaerts, director general of CIMMYT, the collaboration with China can be regarded as one of the mutually beneficial examples of working together to safeguard the world's food security.

"CIMMYT and China together can be partners," said Govaerts. "CIMMYT can work with China for new wheat varieties that can fight climate change, for new maize varieties that can sustain new diseases," said Govaerts.

"We are ready to actually generate data platforms, innovation platforms, exchange platforms, where scientific knowledge can be generated," he said.

With climate change, geopolitical conflicts, COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crises evolving, food security issue is pressing hard across the globe, said Govaerts, noting that it is important to work together to produce more and better food with the least impact on the environment.  

Editor: Jiang Feifan
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