The EU and China are looking to strengthen their links in the area of agricultural research, according to representatives from the 'Biotechnologies, agriculture and food' Directorate of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research (DG Research) and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS). Chinese partners have long been involved in EU-funded agricultural research projects; 25 projects financed under the 'Food quality and safety' thematic area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) featured Chinese partners, and Chinese researchers are also involved in a growing number of Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) projects. The European Commission is now keen to promote greater agricultural research collaboration with China, and is discussing the best ways to do this with the CAAS. Feeding China's immense population is a major challenge; furthermore, even as the population continues to grow, the standard of living is rising, and the country's farmers are under increasing pressure to reduce the environmental impacts of their activities. Research has an important role to play in addressing these challenges, and that is where the CAAS comes in. The CAAS is China's national agricultural research organisation, and is affiliated to the Ministry of Agriculture 'The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences is the largest agricultural research organisation in China,' Dr Huqu Zhai, President of the CAAS, told CORDIS News during a recent trip to Europe. 'We have over 11,000 [members of] staff, of which over 6,000 are researchers, and 40 research institutes covering all aspects of agriculture except fisheries and forestry.' The CAAS also has a strong focus on education, and its school comprises some 3,000 PhD and MSc students. The organisation works closely with China's farmers; CAAS scientists make regular trips to farms to teach farmers new farming techniques and pass on the latest crop varieties, for example. The organisation works extensively with international partners, both through the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) and through bilateral research projects. According to Dr Timothy Hall, acting director of the 'Biotechnologies, agriculture and food' Directorate of the European Commission's Research DG, the Commission is particularly interested in working with China in three key areas: animal health and diseases (especially transmissible diseases like bird flu); improving the resistance of crop plants to factors such as drought, salinity and heat; and food safety. The exact form of EU-China agricultural research cooperation will be decided in future meetings, but it will probably start off with a relatively simple mechanism such as twinning projects. The 'Biotechnologies, agriculture and food' Directorate of the European Commission's Research DG is promoting international research cooperation with a wide range of countries through a variety of methods. Joint calls for proposals on certain key topics have been launched with the relevant authorities in Russia and India. Early indications are that these initiatives are popular with researchers. However, setting up these joint calls is extremely time-consuming for both parties. A 'lighter' mechanism involves twinning projects. Here, the EU and the research funding organisation in the respective country manage their own calls for proposals. Selected projects are then compared, and if two projects appear similar, the researchers involved are encouraged to work together to share knowledge and ideas and further cooperation. The 'Biotechnologies, agriculture and food' Directorate is currently running such a scheme with Canada's Agricultural Bioproducts Innovation Program (ABIP).