On the afternoon of December 20, 2022, Taihe Institute, Alumni Association of China of the French National School of Administration (now the French National Institute of Public Service), and the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, jointly held the seminar “China-France Dialogue for the Future: Sustainable Agricultural Development, Food Security and Rural Revitalization.”
The seminar was moderated by Prof. Ding Yifan, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, and concluded by Mr. François Blanc, Agricultural Counselor of the French Embassy in China. During the seminar, Mr. Philippe Mauguin, Chair and CEO of the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, Mr. Sébastien Abis, Director of the Club DEMETER and Associate Research Fellow at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, Mr. Wen Tiejun, Expert on Rural Development, Ms. Niu Kunyu, Research Fellow of the Institute of Agricultural Economics Development of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Mr. Hu Binbin, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, Professor of Central South University, and Director of the Research Center of Chinese Village Culture, and Mr. Xu Yong, Researcher of the Foreign Economic Cooperation Center of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of the People’s Republic of China and Senior Economist, attended the seminar and conducted in-depth discussions.
Prof. Ding Yifan pointed out that both China and France attach great importance to agricultural and rural development, and that China has made rural revitalization and sustainable agricultural development important projects in its 14th Five-Year Plan. Prof. Ding suggested that both Chinese and French think tanks continue to discuss about their key achievements and find areas for cooperation in sustainable development.
Mr. Sébastien Abis noted that, first of all, food and agricultural security are of the highest priority. To ensure food security, farmers need to be engaged in agriculture as steadily as possible, and a longer-term view of development is needed to balance agricultural production with environmental protection. Second, food security has become a strategic issue worldwide and is linked to issues such as energy and multilateralism. To find solutions to these problems, it is necessary to strengthen international cooperation and share relevant technical and scientific achievements. Finally, China and France complement each other in food security. China and France have secured many important achievements in ecological agriculture research, which can be a starting point to promote cooperation between the two sides. At the same time, China and France are both committed to promoting sustainable maritime development. Therefore, the two sides can cooperate in areas such as mariculture.
Ms. Niu Kunyu pointed out that in the face of the global green revolution in agriculture and increasing population pressure, China changed the old, closed model of combining planting and livestock-feeding, and increased chemical use in agriculture, gradually separating farming and feeding, which led to serious pollution problems. Since 2015, China has been increasing its fights against pollution and has revised a series of environmental protection laws and regulations, continuously reducing its usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Today, China is able to leverage digital farming technologies and engineering techniques to integrate with the traditional Chinese model of sustainable development. Besides, it can also grow agricultural products on a large scale and in a concentrated manner to improve production efficiency and yield.
By 2050, according to Mr. Philippe Mauguin, growing urbanization and desertification will put agriculture under great pressure. Mr. Mauguin noted that in terms of climate change effects, there are several ways to cut carbon emissions: reducing use of chemical fertilizers, rearing animals with low-methane emissions, using low-emission feeds, and taking advantage of land and forestry to sequester carbon. When it comes to species conservation, pesticides, which are posing a serious threat to many species, can be replaced with more biodiversity friendly approaches, such as selecting plants and animals through data analysis to know whether a certain species is suitable for the local area. In the food sector, legumes not only help sequester carbon and reduce fertilizer use, but also provide protein for livestock. Here, China and France can enhance cooperation in such fields of agriculture as genetic biology, biocontrol, digital agriculture, and food system transformation to jointly address the great challenges in the future.
Mr. Wen Tiejun pointed out that current global crises are the result of capital surplus, whilst the food crisis is the result of many countries implementing quantitative easing policies. Rural revitalization, for China, is far more than solely an agricultural issue. It is also a question of China’s peaceful development and the harmonious co-existence between nature and human beings. In recent years, the Chinese economy has been greatly hit by trade wars, the COVID-19 pandemic and the global economic crisis, causing many rural migrant workers to return to their homes unemployed.
Given these circumstances, rural revitalization serves as a ballast stone for China to cope with these crises. When most countries are suffering from crises caused by capital surplus, rural areas in China, with the richest resources but few investments, can attract excess capital in its urban areas to create assets and defuse crises. More importantly, as diversified development of rural ecological resources and multi-industrial innovation are unfolding, turning ecological resources into industries can create new jobs for farmers. As China deepens its reforms to change its past development methods of large-scale industrialization and urbanization, tens of millions of migrant workers can return home and find a new job in local rural areas. In addition, directing excess capital from China’s cities to its rural areas can help the country keep distance with the US dollar-dominated global financial capital competition, easing the confrontational conflict between China and the capital bloc led by the U.S.
During the roundtable discussion, Mr. Hu Binbin proposed the following three suggestions. First, we should respect agriculture and farmers. By redefining farmers as a profession, we can stimulate their enthusiasm to grow food, because they are an indispensable part of China’s food security. Second, the past practice of increasing the yield per unit area has strained the land and caused a serious decline in soil productivity. The “sick” land can only produce “sick” food, so we should introduce policies to protect the land to grow green, organic and healthy food. Third, sound agriculture cannot be achieved without diverse plants and animals, especially insects. Therefore, we must implement policies to protect and study beneficial insects and apply them in agriculture.
Mr. Xu Yong pointed out that when cooperating with France in the field of agriculture, China can take its cooperation with Germany as an example to establish a Sino-French agricultural cooperation center, and send experts to work with each other and beyond. At the same time, China and France can also work together to fight the global food crisis, promote sustainable development across the globe, and help developing countries achieve food security in addition to ensuring their own.
Finally, Mr. François Blanc concluded that China and France both attach great importance to food security. The two countries and the EU stay committed to ensuring food security for each other and the world through cooperation. It is hoped that China’s cooperation in this area with France and the EU can be enhanced to swiftly respond to the food crisis facing the world today. Meanwhile, France and China bear much resemblance in their policies regarding sustainable development, which provides a policy framework for bilateral cooperation. The two countries can also strengthen their cooperation in agricultural research.