Wageningen and Pinduoduo team up on tomato quality research

11-05-2022    14:20   |    HortiBiz

Stir-fried tomato-and-scrambled eggs is a popular dish in Chinese households that may be unfamiliar to many Europeans, who would be more familiar with the use of tomato in salads or sauces.

This difference in cooking styles is one of the factors taken into consideration by researchers at Wageningen University & Research, which has tied up with Pinduoduo, China’s largest agricultural platform, to develop high-quality tomatoes that are suited for Chinese consumers.

“There are always different consumer groups and one consumer group may like this quality while another group prefers another quality,” said Ernst Woltering, a professor with WUR’s department of plant sciences. “We aim to develop recipes with a certain nutritional profile so that Chinese growers can use these recipes to produce tomatoes suited to local tastes.”

The tie-up between Pinduoduo and WUR marks the latest foray into food and agricultural research by the e-commerce giant, which has worked with leading global research institutes to develop healthier and safer food.

Pinduoduo has undertaken research projects with a unit of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research to develop pesticide-detection technology, as well as a first-of-its-kind nutritional study into the health impact of consuming novel plant-based proteins.

The company has gradually shifted its focus to research and development as its customer base burgeoned to more than 850 million buyers. Last year, R&D spending rose to a record and Chief Executive Officer Chen Lei has pledged to devote more resources to develop and enable the adoption of agricultural technology among China’s farmers.

The tomato collaboration with WUR is itself an extension of a partnership that has the university, widely regarded as one of the world’s top agronomic research institutes, offering technical guidance to an annual Smart Agriculture Competition organized by Pinduoduo. WUR conducted sharing sessions with the participants of the competition, which is becoming a proving ground for young scientists and researchers wanting to make their mark in agricultural technology.

Spanning two phases, the study first experimented with faster-growing dwarf tomatoes before validating the findings using regular greenhouse tomato cultivation. The dwarf tomatoes can be modified for cultivation in vertical farms, while the high-wire tomatoes are commonly grown in greenhouses. Bumble bees are employed to help with pollination, and the tomatoes are grown without pesticides.

The Netherlands are champions at growing tomatoes, with the highest per-unit yield in the world. One of the world’s most densely populated countries, the Netherlands has honed the ability to coax high amounts of fruits, vegetables and flowers from small land areas. It is also a leader in sustainable agriculture through its use of precision technology and greenhouses to minimize the use of water, fertilizer and pesticides.

“Food safety and quality directly impact consumer welfare,” said Xin Yi Lim, Executive Director for Sustainability and Agricultural Impact at Pinduoduo. “As one of China’s most widely used platforms for sourcing fresh produce and food products, we want to do our part to help consumers get the best quality food for their money.”

Photo attribution: Qianxixi Min and WUR - HPP

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