Prominent Canadian potato scientist and grower Peter VanderZaag has received a prestigious honour from the Chinese government.
At a special ceremony at Yunnan Normal University (YNNU) in Kunming, China, on Oct. 30, VanderZaag was given the National Friendship Award, the People’s Republic of China’s highest accolade for foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to the country’s economic and social progress.
Peter VanderZaag has spent 29 years supporting food security efforts in China, initiating collaborative research work in China on behalf of the International Potato Center (CIP) in 1985.
According to VanderZaag, China was at that time just opening the door to the outside world and the Chinese scientists were eager to learn new technologies, evaluate new potato genetic material and were remarkably responsive to all the educational programs offered by CIP.
As a result, the country is now the word’s largest potato producer with nearly 25 per cent of the annual global production. In accepting the award, VanderZaag praised the hard work and determination of his many Chinese colleagues in accomplishing the massive increase in potato production.
“China has an aggressive plan to improve its food security situation. I commend you for the right priorities you have set. This makes it easier for someone like myself to come along side of you and work together to meet the challenges of the near and long-term future,” he said.
“Above all I want to recognize the hard working farmers of Yunnan and China. In the 1980s, farmers lived in poverty and struggled to survive. My desire was to see them have better lives for their families. That has come true … and they are much better off today. But their responsibilities of producing more food will not cease.”
VanderZaag sees the task ahead as still daunting. Increased population, decreased cultivated land, climate change and the demands of a better diet will require that China attract the brightest students to do agricultural research as well as farming, VanderZaag said, adding he is committed to continue working alongside his Chinese colleagues in the years ahead.
A YNNU press release said YNNU president Yang Lin credited VanderZaag with having a big heart for the people of China, particularly poor, rural farmers.
“This close relationship with the farmers undoubtedly contributed to his success in wisely steering Chinese scientists in having results-based research that would help farmers quickly,” said Lin. “Furthermore the close interaction with farmers helped focus on the research priorities shared by the farm community.”
According to the press release, Lu Xiaoping, director of the CIP China Center for Asia and the Pacific, praised VanderZaag for his significant role in educating many of China’s potato scientists and leaders of today.
“The impact of all his graduate students is truly amazing and will let his legacy live on. We are deeply honoured to have Dr. VanderZaag recognized for his tireless efforts in helping China strive towards food self sufficiency,” said Xiaoping.
For more information, visit the YNNU website.