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Cover Stories Series 2013> Plowing Ahead> Archive
UPDATED: April 27, 2012 NO. 18 MAY 3, 2012
Feeding a Populous Country
A shortage of labor and land holds back Chinese agriculture
By Yin Pumin

Professionals needed

MECHANICAL AGRICULTURE: Farmers harvest their rice with combines at the Friendship Farm in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province in September 2011 (XINHUA)

The growing exodus of rural residents has not only led to more and more farmland being left unattended, but it has also caused a brain drain in the countryside.

In March, 15 academicians with the CAS and the Chinese Academy of Engineering submitted a joint letter to state leaders, warning that China would face a dearth of farmers unless some strategic measures are taken to stop the new rural generation abandoning agricultural work.

"The most significant measure is to reduce the income gap between farmers and non-agricultural workers," Zheng said.

China has strict price controls on grain. "In a country with nearly one fifth of the world's population, grain price control is vital to social stability. But the policy today has become a hindrance to people sticking to farm work," Zheng said.

Zheng suggested that the government should increase subsidies to farmers in order to encourage them to work the land.

Currently the subsidies given to grain farmers are about 1,200 yuan ($190) per hectare. "The subsidy is too low," Zheng said. "For those farmers who have a large area of farmland, the subsidies might be meaningful but in China, most rural residents are small-scale farmers."

In early March, Premier Wen Jiabao said in his Government Work Report to the session of the National People's Congress, that the Central Government will allocate 1.2 trillion yuan ($190 billion) this year to develop the agricultural industry and the country's rural areas, an increase of 186.8 billion yuan ($30 billion) from last year.

The premier said that China would continue to raise the average minimum purchase price of wheat and rice by 148 yuan ($23.46) and 320 yuan ($50.72) per ton this year. In addition, he pledged that the government would continue to increase agricultural subsidies and special subsidies would be given to farmers if fuel prices rose, as fuel has become indispensable for mechanical farming.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, in the first two months of this year, the Central Government earmarked 132.5 billion yuan ($21 billion) for various agricultural subsidies.

Zheng also calls on the government to introduce farming studies as part of compulsory education and provide agricultural training to the young rural generation after school.

"In major grain producing areas such as Henan Province in central China, less than 20 percent of local high school graduates go to college. It's essential to offer farming skill training that meets local conditions while nurturing young people's interest in agricultural production," he said.

Tang with the Office of the CPC Central Committee's Leading Group on Rural Work said that the country will train more professional farmers and lure others back from urban areas to contribute to agricultural production and the rural economy.

He said that a series of preferential policies, such as credit and tax supports, would be given to the young generation of farmers to lure them back to rural areas to develop modern farming or even set up private farms with advanced technologies.

In its first policy document this year, which was issued on February 1, the Chinese Government pledged to provide more training on science and technology in rural areas to produce professionals in the agricultural sector to facilitate growth.

During his March visit to Henan, Premier Wen said that guidance offered by agricultural experts, as well as farmers' hard work, is the key to a good harvest.

In Huoqiu, a county in east China's Anhui Province, 32 professional crop-protection teams have been set up with training in agriculture to help farmers in their fields and offer advice. Many provinces are now attempting to learn from the experience.

With adequate techniques and marketing expertise, farmers can make significant revenue. In north Beijing's Changping District, strawberry planting has become a prosperous business under the guidance of professionals and has brought wealth to local farmers. According to local authorities, farmers can earn 15,000 yuan ($2,377) from a greenhouse each year.

Zhang Taolin, Vice Minister of Agriculture, said in March that, in order to guarantee the cultivation of new, hi-tech-minded farmers, the government will increase its spending on agricultural education and training.

"The future of farming depends on well-educated professionals who have a good grasp of agriculture and marketing techniques," Zheng said.

 Email us at: yinpumin@bjreview.com

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