Wheat congress kicks off in Beijing

The 2nd International Wheat Congress kicks off on Monday night in Beijing. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The Second International Wheat Congress got underway on Monday night in Beijing, where subjects such as resilience and future sustainability of wheat were discussed.

The congress, which lasts until Thursday, will also discuss six major issues including germplasm resources, structural genomics of wheat, new technologies, crop management under climate change, biotic and abiotic resistance and human health.

Attended by 900 scientists and scholars online and offline from 67 countries, the congress aims to build a platform for sharing the latest information on global wheat conditions and future wheat scientific research.

Wu Weihua, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said during the opening ceremony of the congress that the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, regional conflicts and climate extremes have posed grim challenges to global food security.

China feeds one-fifth of the world's population with its nine percent of the world's land resources, greatly contributing to global food security, he said.

Qu Dongyu, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, said there have been direct impacts on the global wheat and cereal markets, and production, with international wheat prices reaching near record levels in recent months.

The FAO's forecast for global wheat production was 1 percent lower year-on-year. Global maize output is also forecast to fall below last year's level by 1.2 percent.

"We need to conserve and utilize wheat germplasm to breed superior varieties that are adapted to local production systems, environments and markets, and to make all new varieties accessible to farmers and food processors," Qu said.

China is the world's largest producer and consumer of wheat, with a planting area of 24 million hectares and an annual wheat output exceeding 130 million metric tons.

Wu Kongming, president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences that hosted the congress, said China has been making efforts to improve the production and quality of wheat through scientific research, which is an important way to ensure national food security and stabilize global food prices.

The CAAS has been cooperating with international partners to propose the Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative, aiming to establish a global sharing mechanism of crop germplasm resources including wheat, Wu said.

Claudia Sadoff, executive managing director of CGIAR that co-hosted the congress, emphasized global partnerships, like China and CGIAR, in strengthening achievements in scientific research.

The priority is to increase grain yields, resistance to diseases, climate resilience and nutrition quality through breeding modernization, Sadoff said.

"This is especially important as we are facing a food system crisis, with wheat at its heart. The global food crisis requires a systematic approach to stabilize wheat supply," she said.

During the opening ceremony, the Lifetime Achievement Award was issued to the late Zhuang Qiaosheng, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a wheat agronomist at the Institute of Crop Sciences at the CAAS, and Robert McIntosh, an academician of the Australian National Academy of Sciences and a tenured professor at the University of Sydney.