Agriculture a key focus of bioeconomy five-year plan

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Dr. Michaela Boehme | Agricultural Policy Expert | 16 June 2022

On 10 May 2022, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)—China’s top economic planner—released a 14th five-year plan aimed at developing the country’s bioeconomy. The term refers to the sustainable conversion of biological resources into food, feed, bio-based products and energy—supported by the application of life sciences and biotechnology.

Following the release of each national five-year plan by China’s top leadership, government agencies and ministries from the national to the county-level then set about drafting their own specific plans on the basis of the overall blueprint.

NDRC’s plan maps out measures to make the bioeconomy a key driving force of high-quality development and enhance its role in preventing and controlling biosecurity risks. Focused on the pillar industries of (1) healthcare, (2) agriculture, (3) energy and environment, as well as (4) biosecurity, the plan highlights the following overarching goals to be achieved within the current five-year period (2021-2025):

  • Boosting the bioeconomy to reach an estimated scale of CNY 22 trillion (equivalent to USD 3.28 billion)
  • Raising the bioeconomy’s share in national GDP
  • Increasing the number of bioeconomy companies with annual revenue above CNY 10 billion
  • Increasing investment in life sciences research and biotechnology to promote breakthroughs in core technologies

 

How will the plan impact China’s agriculture sector?

The plan dedicates one section to each of the four pillar industries highlighted above. In the field of agriculture, development of the seed industry receives particular attention. Biological seed breeding technologies such as modern genotyping methods, synthetic biology, and the use of artificial intelligence will promote the development of high-yield, high-resistance crops and animal breeds, thus increasing production capacity to safeguard the supply of key agricultural products such as grains, oilseeds, meat, eggs, and dairy, as per the document.

In addition to improvements in seed breeding technology, the plan aims for advances in biosynthesis and microbial technologies to boost development of alternative sources of protein and animal feed. Promoting production of lab-grown meat and biosynthetic feed is seen by policymakers as a way towards making China’s livestock sector more sustainable, reducing its massive environmental footprint and impact on the country’s limited natural resources.

The plan also aims to contribute to agricultural sustainability by fostering innovation in “green” pesticides and fertilizers as well as the use of biological resources to improve soil fertility.

Pilot programs for biodiesel and biojet fuel—part of the plan’s goals for the energy sector—will have additional implications for agricultural production and land use. With a focus on promoting the use of biomass as an alternative source of energy, the plan calls for cultivation of high-yield, high-resistance oil plants and energy forests. The current five-year period will also see efforts to boost ethanol, biodiesel, and biogas industry pilots in urban and rural areas where organic waste is concentrated.

 

Which policy measures are highlighted?

Upgrading China’s innovation and research capacity will be key to reaching Beijing’s ambitious goals. Though vague on details, the plan promises to establish a national biotechnology framework designed to coordinate research, resources, and strategies nationwide. Improvements in high-throughput and next-generation gene sequencing technology are highlighted, further emphasizing the plan’s significance as a building block for the modern seed industry Beijing is trying to forge.

Innovative domestic firms with strong competitiveness can expect to receive policy support. Following tried and tested industrial clustering strategies, policy will focus on establishing bioeconomy pilot zones, particularly in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and the Chengdu-Chongqing economic region. These zones, it is hoped, will function as technology incubators, strengthen industrial linkages, and boost international cooperation. Foreign companies relocating to pilot zones can expect policy incentives.

 

What does the plan mean for China’s broader agriculture and food strategy?

The plan aligns with recent measures to modernize China’s seed and animal breeding capacity. Beijing sees biotechnology as a key driver for improving agricultural production power in order to reduce dependence on imported agricultural seeds. With food security now a top priority, the plan also ties in with recent measures to advance commercialization of locally developed GMO feed crops such as corn and soybeans. High-yielding GMO crops are hoped to reduce Beijing’s reliance on feed grain imports.

The emphasis on domestic R&D capabilities further highlights Beijing’s intention to accelerate breakthroughs in biotechnology and promote technological self-reliance amidst growing geopolitical headwinds that have made acquiring biotechnology from abroad more difficult for Chinese firms.

While responsibility for promoting the bioeconomy lies with NDRC, the plan ties in with recent five-year plans issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) such as the five-year plan for green agricultural development released last year and the most recent five-year plan for promoting agricultural and rural modernization.

 

References:

  1. China maps out measures to develop $3.28t bioeconomy by 2025. In: Global Times, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202205/1265272.shtml, (accessed 09 June 2022)
  2. 国家发展改革委关于印发《“十四五”生物经济发展规划》的通知. In: National Development and Reform Commission, https://www.ndrc.gov.cn/xxgk/zcfb/ghwb/202205/t20220510_1324436.html, (accessed 09 June 2022)

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