A partnership between the European Union and China, focused on crop breeding, is to be established to meet the challenge of providing safe, nutritious and affordable food for the world’s ever increasing population.

The partnership which has been given the name Optichina (Breeding to Optimise Chinese Agriculture) is designed to bridge the gap between crop breeding research activities carried out by European and Chinese researchers.

Organisers say to meet the challenges of the future, careful management of land and a shift to systems that produce more from less is key aswell as accelerated plant breeding for increased yield and better adaptation to abiotic stresses such as wind and intense sunlight have also become crucial.

“For a long time, Chinese policymakers have been pushing for increased yield potential while exploring the molecular aspects of crops – much more so than in Europe,” says project coordinator José Luis Araus from the University of Barcelona. “On the other hand, Europe has become a leader in environmental issues. Combining both talents and exchanging best practices has great potential,” adds Araus.

Top international scientists from both China and Europe are exploring new technologies such as molecular genetics that aim to improve the efficiency of crop breeding programmes. The scientists are also focused on improving and combining plant characteristics such as yield components with the aim of creating the optimal plant. Other focus areas include exploring disease resistance and abiotic stress tolerance.

“All this will lead to better, more sustainable crops and the use of fertilisers and other resources that are resilient,” maintains Araus.

Optichina involves training courses, workshops, conferences and fellowships for both Chinese and European researchers. This contact ensures the transfer of knowledge and technology and the continued implementation of best practices. It also builds long lasting links between Chinese and EU scientists working in molecular, genetic, plant breeding and environmental research.