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[BEIJING] Agricultural science is China's fastest-growing research field, according to a study released this month.

Between 1999 and 2008 the growth in agricultural science papers outpaced growth in all other topics, according to 'Global Research Report: China', released on 2 November by Thomson Reuters.

And from 2004 to 2008, researchers produced four times more scientific papers on agriculture than between 1999 and 2003.

China's world share of publications in agricultural science also grew from 1.5 per cent to 5 per cent over the same period, according to the report, which is based on data found in Web of Science, the world's largest database of scholarly literature.

That contribution is likely to continue to rise rapidly because of the country's large population and attendant food demands.

In comparison, materials science — China's largest research field — now accounts for more than a fifth of world publications in that field, said the report.

Lin Min, director of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences' Biotechnology Research Center, attributes China's agricultural rise to "rich research resources, constant governmental investment and support, and an expanding pool of world-class talents".

In 1999, China spent only 0.23 per cent of its agricultural GDP on agricultural research and development. This percentage increased to 0.8 in 2008 and, according to statistics from the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, is now approaching the one per cent recommended by the World Bank for developing countries.

Lin says having abundant agricultural research resources, such as crop species and genes, are crucial for driving the rapid growth in agricultural science, especially in biotechnology:"Otherwise you could only conduct model research rather than application research. "

But the return of an increasing number of overseas-trained and world-class Chinese agricultural scientists is also helping, says Lin.

They are lured back by China's rapid economic development and attractive job offers. "At the same time, China’s home-grown agricultural researchers are also catching up quickly," Lin adds .

Link to full report

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