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LANZHOU - Traditional Chinese medicine has long been favored by many to avoid the side effects of Western remedies - and it is now a new choice for sick crops.
A remedy using extracts from Chinese herbs was approved last month by Ecocert, a French organic certification organization, and can now be used in organic farming in the United States and Japan.
The biological remedy can treat and prevent diseases in vegetables, fruit trees, tea and tobacco, without causing harm to crops or the environment, according to researchers who developed the remedy at Lanzhou Jiaotong University in Gansu province.
Since 2014, the remedy has been used in more than 60,000 hectares of farmland in Gansu, Yunnan, Shaanxi, Sichuan and Fujian provinces.
The Chinese government is encouraging biological remedies, which are much less toxic and more efficient than traditional pesticides, said professor Shen Tong, who leads the research team.
In early 2015, China started a campaign to ensure zero growth in pesticide application by 2020, as the country"s average annual pesticide use from 2012 to 2014 rose 9.2 percent compared with the level between 2009 and 2011, weighing on production costs and food safety.
Under the move, pesticide use has dropped in the past three years, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture said last month.
Li Yuanzhu, who manages a 4-hectare wolfberry farm in Gansu"s Yumen, said the effect of the remedy had "exceeded expectations".
"In the past, we used pesticide to kill insects after they damaged the berries. But now, the herbal medicine can protect the berries from insects," Li said, adding that the crop has not been sick for over a year.
Last year, Li"s wolfberries met standards for export to the European Union. "We plan to grow another 20 hectares and prepare for export," he said.
A pilot program involving potatoes in Gansu saw the cure rate of a fungal disease reach 75 percent and output grow by 16 percent, said Zhang Wenjie, a researcher with the provincial authority for plant protection and quarantine.
Developing biological remedies for crops has become a global consensus, and China has mastered key technology, added Guo Qingyi with the provincial science and technology department.
The remedy won prizes at the annual China Yangling Agricultural Hi-Tech Fair, an influential event, in 2011, 2015 and 2017.
Gansu in northwestern China is the country"s largest producer of TCM plants, recording an output of 1.1 million metric tons in 2016.