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Scientific and technological progress helps feed nation

Source: China Daily Global Updated: 2021-08-04

When Yuan Longping, a Chinese agronomist who developed strains of high-yield rice that have helped the world make great progress in the battle against hunger, passed away on May 22 at the age of 91, leading Chinese wheat expert Guo Tiancai wrote his eulogy.


Guo Tiancai checks the growth of wheat in a field last month in Qitai county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. [China Daily]

The two first met in 1996 when Yuan led the China National Hybrid Rice R&D Center in Changsha, Hunan province, and Guo worked with the country's National Wheat R&D Center in Zhengzhou, Henan province.

"I visited the hybrid rice R&D center twice, and he made several speeches at Henan Agricultural University," Guo recalled. "Our dozens of meetings are still fresh in my mind."

Yuan and Guo, two figures of importance for China's grain security, compared notes every time they met.

"Yuan will always be an inspiration for Chinese agronomists who are committed to working hard so that China's food security will be in our own hands," said Guo, 68.

China has a great and tough task to feed 21 percent of the global population by utilizing an area of farmland that takes up only 9 percent of the world's total.

Henan, for its part, has just a sixteenth of China's arable farmland, but is responsible for a tenth of the nation's grain output. Farmers in Henan, China's largest agricultural province, raise crops from two wheat and maize planting rotations each year. The area produces about 6 million hectares of wheat and over 3 million hectares of maize, yielding about 25 percent of China's wheat and 10 percent of its maize crops.

The province has played a vital role in national wheat supplies. "One in four steamed buns in China comes from Henan," Guo said.

Henan's achievement comes thanks to rapid innovation in agricultural science.

"We have made progress in areas such as new-variety breeding techniques, high-yield cultivation techniques, formula fertilization by soil-testing processes, pest and disease control, and many others," Guo said,

Record harvest

Guo, who teaches at Henan Agricultural University, heads a team of agronomists whose R&D has made breakthroughs. For example, they helped farmers harvest a record 1,524 kilograms of wheat on one mu (0.07 hectare) of land.

"If you want your wheat to be high-yielding, ask Professor Guo," is a common saying among farmers in Henan.

And Guo is always happy to help them with how to choose and grow high-yield wheat varieties.

Guo was born in a farming family in 1953, the seventh of eight children. It was a difficult task for his parents to feed them. A vegetable-stuffed corn bun was often all Guo had to eat in an entire day when he was at elementary school. Wheat flour buns were available only for Spring Festival and other important holidays. At the time, Guo often dreamed of being able to have wheat flour buns every day.

Thanks to his excellent performance in high school, Guo was enrolled at Henan Agricultural University in 1974.

"I am committed to becoming an agronomist, in the hope of helping all the people in the country have wheat flour buns every day," he wrote in his diary the day he registered at the university.

After his graduation in 1977, Guo worked as a teacher as well as a research fellow studying wheat at the school. In the 1980s, he began leading a group of agricultural experts devoted to studying and promoting high-yield, high-quality and low-cost wheat varieties.

Guo suggested that more farmers' cooperatives be formed in order to promote the growing of high-quality wheat. As a result, the area for growing high-quality wheat in Henan increased from 420,000 hectares in 2016 to 1.07 million hectares in 2020, accounting for 18 percent of the province's total area for planting wheat.

With technical support from Guo and his colleagues, Xingyang county in Henan set up the Xintiandi cooperative, which grows high-quality wheat on an area of over 3,000 hectares, benefiting 12,000 local farmers.

He said recent innovations in science and technology are utilized in 61 percent of the province's wheat production, which may shed light on why the province can produce more grain on limited farmland.

China will be almost entirely self-sufficient in staple grains such as rice and wheat by 2025, according to the China Agricultural Sector Development Report released on May 25.

The report, jointly released by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the International Food Policy Research Institute, forecasts that the country's total grain production will be at 692 million tons by that year.

China's overall grain output in 2020 was 669 million tons, the report said.

"The crux of the country's food security is to ensure basic self-sufficiency of grain and absolute security of staple foods," Guo said. "With wheat and rice as the most important part of its staple grains, China is already self-sufficient."

China is also the world's biggest wheat and rice producer.

Guo, who is also a consultant of the Wheat Experts Guidance Group of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, introduced the province's wheat production to President Xi Jinping during his visit to the agriculture hub in 2014.

Guo was awarded as an outstanding member of the Communist Party of China on June 29.