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Modern Agriculture Development Stressed in Document

Developing modern agriculture is the Chinese government's top priority in building a new socialist countryside, according to a central government document released on Monday.

The document, jointly released by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, is dubbed the No.1 central government document. It is the first set of major policies to be released this year and focuses on rural development for the fourth consecutive year.

"Developing modern agriculture has proven to be the basic channel through which farmers' incomes can be increased," said the document.

Last year, the per-capita income of Chinese farmers stood at 3,587 yuan (US$460), less than one third of the level of urban residents.

To bridge the wealth gap, the central government said it would pump more money into rural areas. "Most of the fixed-assets investment and money earmarked for education, public health and culture this year should go to rural areas," the document said.

"Local governments should also channel more money it earns from selling land use rights to the countryside," it said.

The document advocated the establishment of a mechanism to secure stable sources of capital from both government and financial institutions.

Both the central and local governments should allocate special funds to support the processing of farm produce, which is higher value-added than land-intensive farming, it noted.

"The livestock breeding industry has a direct bearing on the lives of the general public ... Governments at various levels must strengthen its control over fodder quality," it said, urging more money to be spent on subsidizing the breeding of fine dairy cattle and the prevention and control of animal epidemics.

The central government will also make greater efforts to equip the agriculture industry with modern technology this year.

"China will continue to focus on improving the quality of farming and raise the utilization rate of the land and other natural resources in rural areas," it said.

The country will also stick to the principle of self-reliance in food provision and gradually build a stable, well-controlled and highly-efficient food safety guarantee system.

In 2006, China produced more than 490 billion kilograms of grain, only 1 percent increase on the 2005 figure, but nevertheless an increase in output for the third straight year.

The Study Times, a newspaper affiliated to the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, predicted that China could face the possibility of a 4.8 million ton grain shortage in 2010, almost 9 percent of the country's grain consumption.

To prevent a shortfall in grain crops, the government said it would strive to stabilize the total area of arable land, raise the output per unit and improve farm produce quality.

The government also said it would tightly monitor the production, consumption, inventory, imports and exports of farm produce to secure market stability.

Last November, China's grain prices went up 4.7 percent on average, and are expected to rise 6 percent this year.

One of the top targets for this year is to "establish an efficient market surveillance system to be alert to risks of grain shortfall", said the document.

College graduates encouraged to work in countryside
According to the document, the central government will improve policies and regulations that encourage more college and vocational school graduates to start their careers in the countryside.

Rising unemployment in urban areas has made rural area a new choice for more and more college graduates. The central government has organized an increasing number of graduates to serve rural development.

In June 2005, the Chinese government issued a document to guide and encourage college graduates to work in rural areas. The document set a goal of at least one collage graduate in each village in three to five years.

In Beijing, a total of 2,000 college graduates were selected to work as assistants to the village party secretary last year.

The government promised that the graduates enjoy priority in seeking new jobs in governmental departments or large companies after three year's of service in the countryside.

The Beijing municipal government announced this month that another 3,000 college graduates will work as village officials this year.

The provincial government of south China's Guangdong required all college graduates who plan to work for the government to first receive practical training in villages.

Professor Zhou Xiaozheng of the Renmin University of China said the high priority the central government has given rural development has stimulated an increasing numbers of college graduates to work in the countryside.

Farmers urged to pursue sustainable agricultural production

China will encourage its farmers to use more environmentally-friendly fertilizers and pesticides to reduce pollution of the soil, rivers and lakes.

The document said the government pledges to make greater efforts to tackle serious soil erosion in areas along the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers to protect the nation's limited arable land.

Local governments have been ordered to restrict the amount of arable land that is lost to urban growth and industrialization, said the document.

Experts said the pledge is expected to guarantee the basic livelihood of Chinese farmers who have lost their land to estate development or industry without proper compensation.

The government also vows to use organic fertilizers and build more water conservation projects.

Despite a series of policies aimed at improving the incomes and lives of the country's 800 million farmers, including the abolishment agricultural tax, rural life remains hard, the document added.

China to facilitate farm produce exports
China is to provide more aid to farm produce exporters, aiming to spur the export boom.

According to a document, China will build more farm produce exporting bases and promote product sanitation and quality inspection.

The government pledges to cut fees and simplify procedures on quality inspection, giving priority to live products so they can pass customs more rapidly.

The central government and relevant agricultural associations will provide more training to farmers on modern agricultural technologies and international marketing.

China has been accelerating exports of agricultural products with exports jumping 70 percent from US$16 billion in 2001 to US$27.18 billion in 2005.

Statistics from the Ministry of Commerce showed China raked in US$31.03 billion from farm-product exports in 2006, up 14.1 percent year on year. The ministry predicts the figure will reach US$38 billion by 2010.

(Xinhua News Agency January 30, 2007)

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