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More Financial Support for Farmers Needed

The government should be determined to increase financial support to help improve the plight of China's 750 million farmers.

This was a suggestion among a package of policy measures raised by Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the Office of Central Financial Work Leading Group, to speed up the reform and development of China's massive rural regions.

"We should not only pay lip service to the idea. We need action," Chen said, with the expectation that his suggestions will be written into the draft of China's 11th Five-Year (2006-10) Economic and Social Development Plan.

He said China's highest leadership has already expressed political commitment when it stressed recently "the country has entered into the era in which industry should help promote development of agriculture and the cities should help development of rural regions."

Since the founding of New China in 1949, China has stepped up favorable measures to develop cities and industry, but attached less importance to farmers and rural regions.

"Currently the financial support given to China's rural regions is far from enough," Chen said, adding that nearly 94 percent of investment from government coffers at various levels is poured into cities. "Given the big population in the rural regions, it's incredible."

Chen also suggested more investment be earmarked for infrastructure construction, education, medical facilities, and social security networks in the rural regions.

Joachim von Braun, director-general of Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, applauded Chen's package suggestion, saying "it's timely as the country is drawing up its blueprint for the coming years."

He also said inequality between farmers and urban residents is the biggest problem China faces. "It should be addressed by combined methods."

Braun said that investment in infrastructure such as irrigation systems is important, and that building up the ability of poor farmers to adapt to the market economy is essential.

He said the government should also help farmers use modern science and technology to meet the challenges of an increasingly commercialized and globalized agricultural sector.

"We need science and technology to improve productivity in an environmentally-friendly way," Braun added.

He also suggested that the government invest more to make higher education accessible to rural children.

"Education can lift them out of poverty. The government should go beyond just emphasizing primary and secondary education in the rural regions," Braun said.

Commenting on the some of the hardships that China's rural population suffers, Chen raised the example of grain production. The nation's grain production this year is expected to reach 475 million tons, up from 469.5 million tons in 2004. There has been a continuous rise in production since 2003, when China's grain output hit 430 million tons, a 14-year low.

"Weather permitting, China is heading for another bumper year, but farmers have been feeling less happy," Chen said. "The country is still being challenged by a grave situation in rural regions."

Chen said there is little chance of a grain price rise, and coupled with a rapid increase of production material costs, uncertainty in weather and frequent natural disasters, this has not been a happy year for many Chinese farmers.

(China Daily September 26, 2005)

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