After a four-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were again able to organize a study tour in cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) to Germany and France. From 11 – 17 July, a high-ranking delegation consisting of directors of eight CAAS institutes and representatives from the CAAS head office informed themselves during visits to agricultural science institutes and agricultural projects. Following the theme of “transformation of food systems”, the study tour agenda included exchanges on topics such as alternative food systems of the future, adaptation to climate change, as well as bio-economy and circular economy. Institute and projects visits included the Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture Sciences of Humboldt University Berlin, the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bio-Economy (ATB, Potsdam) the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Development in Transformation Economies (IAMO, Halle), the German Biomass Research Center (UBFZ, Leipzig), the German Allotment Garden Museum (Leipzig), the Global Change Experimental Facility of Helmholtz Environmental Research Center (Bad Lauchstädt), organic farm Dottenfelder Hof (Bad Vilbel), Ferme Albert Marquet (Parisculteur, Paris), Nature Urbaine (Paris), and the French Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
Sino-German workshop on the transformation of food systems at ATB
A German-Chinese workshop, which was organized together with the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bio-Economy (ATB), provided an introduction to these topics. Svenja Fuhrmann (Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture BMEL, East Asia Division) and Maja Clausen (BMEL, Research and Innovation Division) opened the conference. In their welcome speeches, Ms. Fuhrmann and Ms. Clausen referred to the many years of successful German-Chinese cooperation in the agricultural sector, which further intensified with the founding of the DCZ in 2015. In her contribution, Ms. Clausen mentioned that there had already been a lively bilateral exchange in the field of agricultural science since 1981, which has unfortunately slowed down in recent years due to the pandemic. She expressed the hope that a fruitful scientific exchange between both countries will now gain momentum will again. Similar expectations were expressed by the head of the Chinese delegation, Mr. Chen Huaning, Head of Department of Human Resources at CAAS.
On behalf of the DCZ, Eva Sternfeld presented DCZ’s Science and Technology Platform, which is implemented in close cooperation with the Department for International Cooperation of CAAS. Using the example of close cooperation between ATB and several institutes of CAAS, she showed how collaboration has successfully developed over the years since the first joint conference and visit by a CAAS delegation to ATB organized by the DCZ in 2019.
In the subsequent panels, the Chinese guests, scientists from ATB, as well as scientists from the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) and the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development (HNEE) presented projects from their institutes on climate change, digitization, and the bio-economy. The topics ranged from “Transformation of food systems towards a circular economy” (Oliver Schlueter, ATB) to “Potentials of agroforestry for climate change adaptation” (Martin Welp, HNEE), “Application of intelligent irrigation systems” (Zhou Guomi, Institute for Farmland Irrigation, CAAS), “Animal husbandry and animal welfare under climate change conditions” (Yi Qianying, ATB), “Digital agricultural information and knowledge system” (Chen Cheng, ZALF), and “Vertical farming in China” (Yang Qichang, Urban Agriculture Institute of CAAS). A presentation by Anja Hansen (ATB) about the Leibniz Innovation Farm, which is currently under construction, and a tour of the research laboratories of the ATB completed the program.
Signing of a MoU between IAMO and the Institute for Agricultural Resources and Regional Planning (IARRP) of CAAS
Another highlight of the trip was the visit to the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO), where the delegation was received by Institute Director Prof. Thomas Glauben and the head of the China Research Group at IAMO, Dr. Sun Zhanli (Jerry Sun). During the visit, a MoU was signed between IAMO and the CAAS IARRP. This is already the second MoU that IAMO maintains with a CAAS institute. There has been a lively exchange between the CAAS Institute of Agriculture Economics and Development (IAED) and IAMO since 2019. Among other things, both institutes are working together on the implementation of the BMBF-funded research project Digital Innovation and Transformation in Agriculture in China (DITAC).
A central topic of the study trip was how alternative possibilities of food production in urban areas can be developed in times of increasing urbanization and decreasing agricultural areas. In the German Allotment Gardeners’ Museum in Leipzig, which is located on the site of one of the first German allotment garden colonies, the group was able to find out about the 200-year-old German tradition of urban gardening. The delegation learned that since their inception these gardens have not only been used for the recreation of the urban population but have also made an important contribution to food security. As Museum Director Tom Blücher mentioned, vegetable and fruit production in allotment gardens was even priced into the state agricultural plans in GDR times. Today, these parcels make an important contribution to improving the urban microclimate and biodiversity.
Nowadays, in both China and Germany, intensive research is being carried out into how climate-neutral and space-efficient food production can be achieved in urban areas. Some projects are already ready for the market. In his contribution to the German-Chinese workshop at ATB in Potsdam, Professor Yang Qichang from the Urban Agriculture Institute of CAAS presented a highly efficient vertical farm that was recently put into operation in a seven-story building of his institute. In Berlin, the delegation had the opportunity to visit the Institute for Agricultural Sciences and Horticultural Sciences at the Humboldt University in Berlin to find out more about what is currently the most ambitious German project. Prof. Uwe Schmidt presented the Cubes Circle Project, which is funded by the Federal Ministry for Research and Education and implemented by a large research consortium of institutes and private companies. The Cubes Circles, for which the first pilot plant is currently being built on the premises of the Institute for Agricultural Sciences and Horticultural, will work with a modular and resource-efficient system in which plants, insects and fish are cultivated in communicating cycles and use the respective waste materials in the production processes.
ATB in Potsdam is also conducting similar research. A research group led by Oliver Schlueter is working on how food waste can be minimized and recycled through insect breeding and how insects bred in this way can be used as a protein resource for animal feed and potentially as food in the nutritional cycle.
During the two-day visit to Paris, urban agriculture was also the focus. There, the delegation gained insights into a series of projects that the city of Paris has initiated since 2016 as part of the Parisculteur program and which now cover a total area of 30 hectares at over 50 locations.
The delegation was able to visit the Ferme Albert Marquet, an 800 square meter rooftop farm that supplies the adjoining cooking school in the building with vegetables and herbs. Nature Urbaine, another rooftop farm, has a much larger dimension, covering 6,000 square meters, but with a perspective of 14,000 square meters it aims to become the largest urban agriculture farm in Europe. The project is financed through events that take place at the rooftop farm and the rental of small areas for growing vegetables to people from the neighborhood, as well as the professional cultivation of vegetables, lettuce, and herbs. The farm works with modern aeroponic and hydroponic systems and has a computer-controlled irrigation system. The target group for the produce from professional cultivation are hotels and restaurants, but there were complaints about a lack of demand and it became clear that the project has so far lacked an economically viable marketing concept. The currently high energy prices also pose major challenges for the economic sustainability of rooftop farms.
Adaption to climate change
Another topic that was dealt with intensively during the study trip was the adaptation of food systems to climate change. During the visit to the Global Change Experimental Facility (GCEF) of the Environmental Research Center of the Helmholtz Society, the delegation received information about a long-term field experiment on how climate change affects various forms of land use (conventional agriculture, ecological agriculture, intensively used grassland, extensively used meadows, and grassland grazed by sheep). Furthermore, GCEF conducts experiments on how different soil types react to climatic changes as well as how climate resilience could improve through genetic diversity.
The topic of climate change was also always present during other project visits. ATB, for example, conducts research on how heat stress affects dairy cows and how it can be reduced. During our tour of the research laboratories, ATB researcher Yi Qianying demonstrated at the wind tunnel how air flows for barn constructions can be measured there to not only optimize ventilation conditions but also gain insights into the movement of greenhouse gas emissions from barns.
Dottenfelder Hof near Frankfurt, which was also visited as part of the trip, has been active for many years in the field of breeding crops that are particularly suitable for organic farming and resilient to pests and climate change. This includes, for example, the EU-funded CROPDIVA project, which is about breeding climate-resilient crops, but also improving nutritional value and agro-biodiversity by promoting crops that are currently underused. The research section of the farm works closely with academic institutes, such as the University of Kassel and organic agriculture research institute FiBL.
Sven Schaller from the German Biomass Research Center (DBFZ) explained the vision of the center to create a climate-neutral society in the foreseeable future and to replace the economy based on fossil fuels with a bio-economy. The focus of DBFZ is on recycling agricultural residues. The delegation had the opportunity to find out more about the state-of-the-art test facilities for biogas. As the Biogas Institute of CAAS is working on similar topics, an extensive exchange between both institutions is foreseen, as was made clear in the lecture by Prof. Wang Dengshan.
EU agricultural policy and agricultural sciences in France
On the last day of the intensive week, the delegation once again had the opportunity to find out more about European agricultural policy in general and the French approaches to agricultural policy and the promotion of agricultural research. In a background discussion, Aurelie Catallo, director of the “Agriculture and Food Policies” program at IDRRI, an independent policy research institute, explained the main features of European agricultural policy and the challenges facing French agriculture. These include economic viability of farms and ecological transformation of the agricultural system, including reduction of agrochemicals.
At the French Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Lauric Cecillon, Director of the Research and Innovation Department, provided information on the structure of French agricultural research. The landscape is very complex and the ministry tries to integrate all stakeholders, both academic and privately funded research institutions. Even more importantly, agricultural research in France seeks to closely involve practitioners, as Mr. Cecillon explained to the delegation.
A very intensive study trip came to an end with the visit to the French Ministry of Agriculture. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved who made this possible.
Please also find our daily reports of the study tour on LinkedIn:
- 11 July, arrival and visit of Cubes Circle project, HU Berlin
- 12 July, Sino-German ag science workshop at ATB, Potsdam
- 13 July, visit to IAMO and DBFZ
- 14 and 15 July, visit to Global Change Experimental Facility and Dottenfelder Hof
- 16 and 17 July, visit of urban agriculture projects and French Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Paris