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China aims for steady, relatively fast rural, agricultural development
29/12/2008 9:48

China concluded its annual two-day central rural work conference yesterday with a pledge to give priority to maintaining steady and relatively fast rural and agricultural development, ensuring supplies of farm produce and facilitating income increases for farmers in 2009.

Chinese Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu attended the conference and delivered a speech.

The conference stressed that rural areas have the biggest potential for China to boost domestic demand and, to maintain steady and relatively fast economic growth, the foundation lies with agriculture. Farmers are the focus of efforts to safeguard and improve people's social welfare.

The conference sets four major tasks for next year's agricultural work.

First, great importance should be laid on enhancing the foundation of the agriculture sector and stabilizing agricultural production.

There should be no letup in promoting grain production. Meanwhile, efforts shall be made to adjust agricultural structure, promote industrialization, improve infrastructure, and step up agricultural product safety work, according to the conference.

Major projects include building cotton production bases in the Yangtze River valley and Huanghe, Huaihe and Haihe plain and accelerating application of machinery and modern technology in agricultural production.

It is estimated that China yielded a record 528.2 billion kilograms of grain this year, 26.9 billion kg, or 5.4 percent, higher than last year's figure, representing an annual grain output growth for the fifth consecutive year.

Policy makers also said that infrastructure construction projects in both urban and rural areas should employ as many migrant rural workers as possible in 2009. Additional jobs for public benefit should be provided to migrant workers first.

Second, an array of measures would be taken to promote the growth of farmers' income.

Farmers' annual per-capita net income is estimated to reach 4,700 yuan (US$687.1) this year, up 8 percent or so in real term from the previous year level. The annual growth rate of farmers' income exceeded 6 percent for five years in a row.

Attendees agreed the government would continue raising the minimum purchasing price for grain, increase subsidies for agricultural production, raise main agricultural product reserves, stabilize agricultural products price and give high importance to the employment of returning migrant workers next year.

Figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture from 10 provinces and municipalities nationwide revealed about 7.8 million migrant laborers had returned to their hometowns earlier than in previous years for the Spring Festival.

The adverse effects of the deepening global financial crisis on the Chinese rural economy have begun to surface, making it difficult to keep agricultural growth and increase farmers' income, according to the conference.

Those migrant workers who returned home jobless should be encouraged to start their own businesses. They will be given credit extensions, tax breaks, business registration and information consulting service, said attendees.

"Amid the grim employment situation for migrant workers next year, to maintain stable and relatively fast development of the rural economy is not only an economic issue, but also a social issue," Agricultural Minister Sun Zhengcai said.

Sun added that to expand employment channels for farmers plays an important role in solving various problems and promoting social harmony.

Third, great efforts should be put on improving the social welfare and living standards of farmers.

In terms of rural infrastructure construction, priority should be given to projects that improve water, power and gas supplies as well as those which provide more and better roads and housing, according to policy makers.

Meanwhile, an additional 60 million rural residents should be offered safe drinking water, they added.

To improve farmers' living standards, the subsidized home appliance program would be carried out nationwide next year and new household appliance type would be introduced according to farmers' needs.

The Chinese government promised to grant a 13 percent subsidy for household appliances for farmers' on purchase of color TV sets, refrigerators, mobile phones, washing machines and chest freezers. A pilot program began in December 2007.

Fourth, great importance should be laid on agricultural reforms to increase vitality to rural economy.

The country will improve the basic agricultural operation system, establish and improve the market for farmers to transfer their contracted farmland use rights, while sticking to the 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) minimum farm land line.

In one of its latest moves to protect farm land, China's State Council, the Cabinet, approved a general outline for land use this August for the 2006-2020 period. The goal is to ensure a proper use of arable land and guarantee a minimum of 120 million hectares of cultivated land, as feeding 1.3 billion people still remains one of the government's top concerns.

Public service institutions for agricultural technology spreading, disease prevention and control, agricultural products quality supervision should be established in rural areas nationwide within the coming three years, according to the conference.

Local authorities should make best efforts to take keeping steady and relatively fast rural economic growth as their top priority, secure grain production and effective supply of main agricultural products, said a commentary to be published on the People's Daily today.

"Only with increasing rural prosperity, can China really achieve social harmony and stability," said the commentary.