Transforming the AgriFood Industry in Southwestern China

The University of Nottingham has launched a new flagship partnership with one of China’s biggest feed and pig producers to help transform Southwest China’s animal feed market.

The ‘Nottingham-New Hope Liuhe Precision Nutrition Innovation Platform’, was launched at the Sino-UK AgriFood Innovation Sichuan Forum, held on Monday 10 September in Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province. The forum attracted 150 delegates from Sichuan’s agrifood sector.

The aim is to harness Nottingham’s wealth of expertise to increase the utilisation of resources, control the use of pesticides, reduce waste and pollution and produce high quality, safe and nutritious food by delivering an innovative, resilient and resource efficient supply chain.

The ‘Nottingham-New Hope Liuhe Precision Nutrition Innovation Platform’, will become a flagship partnership to help transform China’s animal feed market.

Chengdu-based New Hope Liuhe Group is one China’s biggest pig farmers. It made about 60 percent of its income from animal feed last year, amounting to 45.6bn yuan, and sales from its pig operation grew by 70.5 percent to 3bn yuan. It has doubled the number of pigs sold to 2.4 million and plans to build more farms in an effort to produce a further 10 million pigs.

A Beacon of hope

China’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) valued the country’s pig meat trade at 50m in 2014. Sichuan Province in Southwest China is one of China’s largest agricultural regions.

However, in contrast to its rich agricultural resources and size of its industry low disposable incomes lead to millions of people leaving the farmlands in search of better paid jobs.

The University’s flagship Future Food Beacon was established to bring together experts in soil, plant and crop science, diet and health, nutritional sciences, animal science, process engineering and food sciences.

By developing innovation and talent partnerships in and with Sichuan Province they plan to transform its agriculture and food and drink industry.
China is one of the Beacon’s three global priority regions.

David Salt, Professor of Genome Enabled Biology and Director of the Future Food Beacon, will lead the Liuhe project. He said: ‘My vision is to utilise our expertise to transform the industry in the region and boost crop innovation for environmental sustainability, improved nutrition and safety.

“Maize and soybean meal are the core raw materials for China’s feed industry. They are widely used, but their mineral nutrient content is not optimised. Therefore, the selection of new varieties of corn and soybeans through advanced phenomics and genomics, precisely delivering the required level of nutrients, and reducing the content of heavy metals such as arsenic and cadmium to effectively enhance the efficiency and environmental sustainability of China’s livestock industry.”

Like many agricultural and livestock industries, pig-raising in China is transitioning from family farming to intensive, large-scale facilities. Beijing is encouraging the drive for greater efficiencies and to raise standards to improve food-safety.

Dr Zhu Zhengpeng, General Manager of the Technology Department at New Hope Liuhe, said: “This project has the potential to reduce the pressure on crops supply for human consumption. Collaborating with world-leading universities such as Nottingham in science and innovation is key to our sustained success in the market.”

Food and drink is Britain’s largest manufacturing sector, contributing 28.2bn and employing 420,000 people, according to the Ministry of Environmental Food and Rural Affairs. This sector can play a fundamental role in promoting exports, encouraging an efficient and dynamic economy, maintaining national competitiveness and safeguarding food security. According to reports, British food and drink exports to China totalled 215 million in 2013, up from 136 million the year before.

The British Embassy and Consulate General in Southwest China are also supporting this initiative. Karen Morgan, the UK’s first Agriculture and Food Counsellor in China, will introduce business opportunities for the UK in this sector. She said: “This initiative is a fantastic example of how the UK and China have become key partners in tackling the challenges of food security. It demonstrates how experts and business leaders, coming together to maximise their expertise, can support a thriving agricultural industry."

Professor Nick Miles, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement, said: “The University’s Future Food Beacon of Excellence champions our field-leading research to tackle global food and drink challenges, characterised by our transdisciplinary ethos. This visit builds on our global ambition and years of commitment to promote research and innovation partnerships with China. I attended the Conference in September last year when I signed a Memorandum of Understanding for Strategic Collaboration with Mr Zhu Hexin, Vice Governor of Sichuan. One year on, I am delighted to see it being converted into concrete actions. I am grateful for the support from Sichuan Science and Technology Department as well as the Agricultural Department. I hope to promote more research and innovation in Southwestern China with the continued support from the British Embassy and Consulate General in Chongqing.”

UK government is promoting the AgriFood sector with China to boost the 67.5bn trading relationship and in science and innovation via the UK-China Flagship Challenges Programme.