How to implement the first plan of modern protected agriculture in China?

“Protected agriculture” is frequently used by policy makers, experts and industry insiders in China. This term is referring to different modern agricultural production methods under controllable environmental conditions including greenhouse horticulture, animal husbandry, aquaculture and Agri-products processing.

Food security has always been a priority in China. Against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war and rising climate challenges, it is increasingly emphasized. Modern protected agriculture is one solution to boost food production and supply chain resilience.

In June this year, China has rolled out its first plan from 2023 to 2030 to develop modern protected agriculture. It was jointly issued by four ministries: Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA), National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Natural Resources, formulating guidance for four sectors. This guidance is in line with resource-saving, environment-friendly, market orientation and driven by innovation and technology:

  • Modern crop production, which is energy-saving and suitable for large-scale machinery
  • Modern animal husbandry, which is efficient and intensive
  • Modern aquaculture, which is ecological and food secure
  • Modern agricultural logistics with storage, preservation and drying facilities

Adhere to resource intensification and conservation, adhere to scientific and technological innovation and leadership, adhere to the green cycle of production, and adhere to the diversification of market players.

How to implement the plan?

A solar greenhouse with modern equipment and facilities

Mr. Zeng Yande, Chief Agronomist and Director of Development Planning Department, MARA, recently answered this question during a press conference held by the State Council Information Office of China.

Firstly, prioritizing implementation guided by the plan. To implement the plan:

  1. upgrade and renovate old facilities to improve production efficiency: install key equipment; apply new technology; and replace outdated facilities.
  2.  build and improve modern facilities to increase output: develop modern solar greenhouses, vertical farming facilities, multi-story animal production facilities, sea farming etc., and make use of non-arable land, like Gobi desert, and regions with cold temperature and dry land.  

Secondly, boosting innovation and improving quality. To promote technology innovation, the key should be on synchronizing agricultural equipment innovation with special- purpose- breed varieties, accelerating R&D pace in technology and equipment to accommodate modern protected agriculture, solving key problems constraining modern protected agriculture. To boost integral innovation, integrating various technologies according to different sectors and regions, then accelerating application to improve resource efficiency and output.

Thirdly, emphasizing policy guidance and gathering financial resources.

  1. increase government expenditure: subsidizing interest on loans in agriculture including the qualified projects into local government bond support.
  2.  innovation of financial services, encouraging financial institutions to set up special-purpose financial products for protected agriculture, implementing venture capital, bundling and packaging qualified projects to be included into financing project pools of agricultural and rural infrastructure.

Fourthly, stressing the leading role of entities and stimulating development of strong agriculture companies. Increase the role of market leaders of the agriculture industry and improving standard production levels in the whole industrial chain, working together with farmers by establishing demonstration farms and cooperatives, supporting service providers on seed breeding and propagation, prevention and control for diseases and pests, greenhouse management to empower individual farmers.

Modern protected agriculture is a way to break through the constraint of resource and environment, to improve output and efficiency of production and to ensure safety and stability of the agricultural supply chain. In 2021 China consumed nearly 600 million tons of vegetable, amongst which only 230 million tons were produced in greenhouses. Gansu province is a pioneer in exploring how to make use of non-arable land. It boasts 400,000 mu’s (27,000 ha) protected agriculture production area in Gobi desert and saline-alkali region, the output of which is equal to 1 million mu’s (67,000 ha) of open field production.

This is the first time China releases a plan and policy on Modern protected agriculture, which shows policy maker’s commitment to boost sector development. This also provides huge potential opportunities in Sino-Dutch cooperation. Professor Guo Pei from China Agricultural University says that there are 19 million mu (ca 1,25 million ha) of old greenhouses that need to be upgraded and 5 million mu (ca 350 thousand ha) of high-end protected agriculture that need to be developed.

Agriteam China September 2023

Article written by K.H.M. van Bommel and Lily Zhang