Syngenta, the Swiss agricultural biotech firm, has agreed a five-year research collaboration with the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB) in Beijing.

By combining research efforts, Syngenta hopes to increase the speed of introduction of new and improved seed varieties, which are urgently needed to boost agricultural productivity in China and elsewhere.

The agreement focuses on the identification and development of novel agronomic traits including drought tolerance for key crops like corn, soybean, wheat, sugar beet and sugar cane. IGDB is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and is one of China's leading biotech research institutes.

Syngenta will have rights to commercialise previously and newly developed traits in the agreed range of field crops. Under the agreement, traits will not only be developed for the Chinese seeds market, but also for global agriculture markets. Financial details of the agreement have not been disclosed.

Improving the productivity of China's agricultural sector is critically important because massive urbanisation and construction threaten to swallow up huge stretches of arable land. While China has managed to add 2.4m hectares of new arable land in the past seven years through land consolidation and other measures, it is also looking to new seed varieties to improve the yield of the land. China estimates it needs to retain no less than 120m hectares of farmland to ensure food safety.

Western biotech firms like Syngenta can play an important role in helping modernise China's agriculture and the Swiss company recently signed a deal with Sanbei Seed, a leading Chinese corn seeds company — see this EngagingChina story.

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