Smart agriculture is being promoted: science minister

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Sep 05, 2018 - Page 3

The Ministry of Science and Technology is promoting smart agriculture by funding research into crop breeding, product preservation and machinery development, while its draft statute governing genetic engineering research is being reviewed by the Executive Yuan, ministry officials said yesterday.

The nation’s academic papers about agricultural sciences have had a strong impact, as shown by their frequent citations, but the ministry has previously made insufficient efforts to turn the research results into applicable technology, Minister of Science and Technology Chen Liang-gee (陳良基) told a forum on smart agriculture at the Taipei International Convention Center yesterday.

The ministry last year called for research projects on applying “smart” technology to agriculture as it seeks to develop new crop breeding techniques in response to effects of climate change; preservation techniques to extend the shelf life of agricultural products; and smart machinery to facilitate agricultural production, he said.

Shih Ming-che (施明哲), a distinguished research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Agricultural Biotechnology Research Center, detailed how he and other researchers are working to boost the precision of crop breeding through molecular breeding in a bid to develop new crop species more resistant to heat, drought, flooding and biological diseases.

Asked about genetic engineering techniques, such as those adopted by US-based agricultural biotechnology firm Monsanto, Shih said none of the breeding techniques he has introduced incorporate genetic engineering, but added that his stance on the issue can be encapsulated in the phrase: “When possible, molecular breeding; when necessary, genetic engineering.”

Molecular breeding techniques are adequate when researchers have sufficient plant genetic resources, but “under certain circumstances” genetic engineering tools are not inappropriate if they can help cultivate new crop species, such as so-called “golden rice,” that save more people from going hungry, he said.

The health risks posed by genetic engineering techniques is another issue that needs more debate, Shih added.

The ministry has proposed a draft statute governing genetic engineering research that is still being reviewed by the Executive Yuan and unlikely to be reviewed by the Legislative Yuan during this session, a researcher at the ministry’s Department of Life Sciences said on condition of anonymity.

Because genetically modified products are difficult to identify by sight, the ministry plans to help farmers develop quick testing techniques, Department of Life Sciences Director-General Chuang Woei-jer (莊偉哲) said.

The two-day forum, which ends today, was jointly organized by the ministry and the Agricultural Technology Research Institute.