Joint lab

Steering Committee (SC) members of the MARA China-CABI Joint Laboratory for Biosafety and MARA China-CABI European Laboratory have met to review the laboratories’ achievements over the past year as well as set out strategic plans for 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Representatives of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA), the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and CABI met ‘virtually’ using video conferencing – to maintain social distancing guidelines in Europe – for the 12th and 2nd meetings of the respective laboratories located in China and Switzerland.

The meeting was opened by the Chairperson of the SC, Mr Wang Hongqian, Deputy Director General, International Co-operations at MARA and CABI Executive Council Member for China, and Professor Sun Tan, Vice President of CAAS.

This was followed by a presentation on 2019 progress review and 2020 plans jointly provided by Co-Directors of the Joint Lab, Professor Zhou Xueping, Director General of Institute of Plant Protection, CAAS, and Dr Ulli Kuhlmann, CABI’s Executive Director, Global Operations.

The meeting heard how in 2019 some outstanding progress was made by both Joint Labs – ranging from governance, management, scientific exchanges and training, implementation of on-going collaborative projects and the development of new international projects, capacity building to awareness-raising.

For example, in March last year, participants of the 11th Joint Lab SC meeting unveiled the plaque of the MARA China-CABI European Laboratory at CABI in Delémont, Switzerland. This European laboratory also hosted its first two exchange scientists from China during three months from early October to early January.

This resulted in good progress in biocontrol research on the Fall armyworm, a serious invasive maize pest in Africa and Asia, as well as on the improvement of CABI’s BioProtection Portal.

Mr Wang Hongqian said, “The recent outbreaks of COVID-19, African Swine Flu, and desert locust have posed severe challenges to global food and nutritional security, and sustainable development of agriculture.

“The Joint Lab should build on the significant progress achieved in 2019 and in earlier years, and focus on projects and activities addressing global priority issues such as climate change, poverty reduction, environment protection etc. thus contributing to the realisation of SDGs”.

Mr Wang also re-assured other SC members of MARA’s continuous support to the Joint Lab in Beijing and European Lab in Delémont, politically and financially.

Professor Sun Tan said, “2020 is the last year of China’s ambitious goal to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society, or Xiaokang, in all respects through eliminating absolute poverty, revitalising rural China and making the planet greener.

“Science, technology and innovation can play key roles in helping China achieve this goal. In order for the Joint Lab to further contribute to this goal, it should focus on strategic research and innovation on ‘safe and green’ technologies for the prevention and control of key transboundary crop pests and diseases and provide evidence and recommendations to policy makers”.

Dr Ulrich Kuhlmann also highlighted that, in response to the invasion of Fall armyworm (FAW) in China, the Joint Lab collated and analysed FAW information and evidence for CAAS and MARA. Taking advantage of CABI’s expertise and experience on Fall armyworm, the Joint Lab participated in a series of prevention and control activities and projects. “Research on biological-based pest management options for FAW should be prioritized by the Joint Lab in 2020”, he said.

SC members heard how the CABI-led Plantwise programme, which aims to help farmers lose less of what they grow to plant health problems, and feed more people, has addressed and will continue to address the priorities of local governments in China, such as the Plant Clinic-based Beijing Pesticide Reduction Management System. To date, 133 plant clinics have been established in target areas with more than 141,000 prescriptions issued to farmers, which greatly contributes to green plant protection and chemical pesticides reduction initiatives in China.

In 2020, the Joint Lab will extend Plantwise activities in China, particularly to explore commercial models with the private sector, and will be ready to embrace new opportunities and challenges throughout the rest of the year.

Among these will be an agreement between CABI and IPP-CAAS for the reciprocal exchange of biological control agents in view of Access and Benefit Sharing via the two Joint Labs for the sustainable management of invasive plants and pests. To underpin the ‘Belt and Road Plant Protection Initiative’, the Joint Lab will also implement the Agreement on China-Pakistan-CABI Joint Collaboration Activities.

The meeting closed with confirmation that Dr Kuhlmann, for 2020, is the Chairperson of the SC – having taken over from Mr Wang.