News Xina 19

If there is one thing we will need every day for the rest of our lives, it is food. Food, or the lack thereof, is unarguably a driver of humanity. The development of agriculture only 12,000 years ago was the beginning of our civilisation, and 12,000 years is nothing if we bear in mind that hominids were using tools 2.5 million years ago, and that use of fire, and therefore the emergence of a primitive kitchen, can be dated to around 800,000 years ago. With the industrial revolution agriculture led to the food industry, although obviously we continued to grow crops. Unfortunately, working the land is a job with little social recognition compared to other more glamorous and lucrative professions. However, every day, with varying degrees of success, it must meet the needs of more than 7 billion people, 1.5 billion of whom live in China.

If there is one activity that has put us on the world map, apart from football, it is Catalan cuisine. Our food culture has spread significantly over the last few years, with Catalonia at the front line. Our model has been exported all over the world, and our cuisine presented in Beijing and Shanghai with the same category and intensity with which it is known at home.

So what lies behind the success of Catalan cuisine? Many of our chefs have said that the high quality of our raw materials - our vegetables, fruits and meats, among others – are vital to this exquisite cuisine. We unarguably need to step up production considerably and ensure impeccable management of the food industry and its distribution to make sure that what we eat every day is as strong in its organoleptic properties as it is healthy.

Currently, China has the largest expanse of protected crops (grown under plastic or in greenhouses), with more than 2 million hectares. If we compare that to the sea of plastic-protected crops in Almeria (Spain), which covers only 5,500 hectares, we soon realise the scale and importance of China's more technical agriculture. The extent of China's crop production is in fact vast, covering a full 122 million hectares with various crops. Notwithstanding its size or the best efforts of the Chinese government to boost agricultural productivity, according to the USDA China still imports more food than it exports. Many of the products exported from Catalonia and Spain are food products, and these figures are rising year on year. According to the ICEX, meat is the biggest export, followed by olive oil, wine and frozen seafood.

A market such as China is naturally very attractive to Catalan companies. The days when China was merely a low-cost supplier are well and truly over. Nowadays, China is not only a provider of high-tech and value added products, but our businesses see it as a potential consumer that offers vast opportunities to grow sales.

Anyone can understand that we export meat, wine, oils or fish, but we must also remember that Catalan companies are exporting products that might seem outlandish to the layman, such as animal semen and embryos or agri-tourism skills. The agri-food industry covers a great deal, from cutting-edge technologies for growing hydroponic vegetables, to 3D food printers. All of this opens up a wide range of opportunities for both Catalan and Chinese companies, to exchange their latest technology, and this opportunity is unarguably essential for Catalan engineers.

Silvia Bures
Dr .of Agricultural Engineering, Ph.D. Horticulture.
Dean of the Catalan Society of Agricultural Engineers and Chair of the Association of Agricultural Engineering