The Agricultural Science and Technology Innovation Program
The Agricultural Science and Technology Innovation Program (ASTIP) officially begins in 2013 and is directly supported by the Chinese central government. At the center of ASTIP is a new funding paradigm dedicated to supporting four specific objectives (see below) over the next thirteen years. “In alignment with President Li’s vision of building a world-class agricultural research institute, these objectives aim to promote novel innovations and leverage research results to solve specific agricultural problems in China.” says Tang Huajun, a vice president of CAAS.
Similar innovation programs have been implemented in the past to advance other areas of importance in China. A notable example is the Knowledge Innovation Program (KIP), which began at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1998 with the aim of boosting research and education capacity in the natural sciences. On the humanities side, the Philosophy and Social Science Innovation Program (PSSIP) was initiated in 2011 at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to more deeply investigate social and economic issues. What sets ASTIP apart from these two programs is its goal to produce science- and technology-based applications that can be rapidly applied to solving real world problems.
Supporting Long-term and Interdisciplinary Research Before the advent of ASTIP, several factors hindered the competiveness of CAAS. The amount of effort spent applying for grant applications significantly reduced the time and energy available for actual research work by CAAS scientists, a situation which has been improved through dedicated funding. Continuity of research was also a problem. The absence of consistent funding has hindered many opportunities to solve big problems through long-term experiments, especially since “crop breeding typically takes five to eight years to complete, and for livestock, at least 15 to 20 years is necessary to see any result.” Tang explains. “Therefore, the first objective of ASTIP,” says Tang, “is to support long-term and interdisciplinary research by providing stable and continuous funding.”
Capacity Building ASTIP will also help other aspects of the transformation happening at CAAS. The recruitment of talent, for example, has been a challenge because of the laborious work required to conduct field studies. Hence, the second objective of ASTIP is to revamp the recruitment system by injecting new funds so that “every research project will be carried out by a team of the most brilliant scientists led by experts on the subject.” said Tang. The retention of talent—through mechanisms such as performance-based evaluation and promotion—will also be put in place through ASTIP.
Expanding Research Support Facilities and infrastructure The third objective of ASTIP is to speed up the expansion of critical research facilities and infrastructure. Agricultural research requires validation in experimental facilities and field stations. Currently, the utilization of existing CAAS experimental stations is near saturation, making the need for new and multipurpose field station critical. ASTIP will facilitate cooperation between CAAS and local government and agricultural research institutions to make the most of available sites, as well as develop new ones.
Fostering International Cooperation The final objective of ASTIP is to foster more international cooperation, which can often lead to fruitful research collaborations. From the global perspective, international cooperation is pivotal to global food security. Tang explains: “The annual global food trade is about 200 million tons but the consumption within China, alone, is 500 million tons. Any disruption to the stability of the food supply in China would wreak havoc with global food security.” The importance of international cooperation on agricultural research, monitoring, and policy cannot be overstated. ASTIP will provide the funding and framework for both new and ongoing international cooperation projects.
Three Phases of ASTIP Currently, three phases are planned for ASTIP, paralleling China’s 12th, 13th, and 14th ‘five-year plans’ between now and 2025. Such coordination with the central five-year plans indicates the importance of ASTIP in the nation’s strategic planning. From 2013 to 2015, the first phase of ASTIP focuses on the exploration of a new and more efficient organization to support agricultural innovation. The second phase, from 2016 to 2020, will be the review and adjustment period in which lessons learned in the first phase will be applied to fine-tune priorities. Additionally, international cooperation, capacity building, and the enhancement of research facilities and infrastructures will reach their peak. Finally, from 2021 to 2025, the final phase will be to continue the expansion of all parts of the program.