AgBank's micro-credit loans in rural areas expand rapidly

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Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) loaned 82.9 billion yuan (12.2 billion U.S. dollars) in micro-credit to Chinese farmers in the first three months of the year, compared with 67.3 billion yuan in the whole of 2009.

Starting in April 2008, ABC's micro-credit business, which makes loans of 3,000 to 50,000 yuan in size, has helped 15 million farmers across the country, Lu Chuan, an ABC official told Xinhua Saturday.

Farmer Bu Nianhua, a grape grower, is happy these days. On his 8.5-acre grape farm he has seven breeds of grape. They all ripen at different times, between July and November and he earns an annual income of 200,000 yuan.

But thanks to a 30,000 yuan micro-credit loan from the local ABC branch at the end of 2009, Bu has planted a new high-yield grape breed - Minicure Finger. The half acre of Minicure Finger grapes alone will bring him 75,000 yuan in income this year.

In a break with the past, Bu's loan was guaranteed by two other farmers, instead of by enterprises.

"Like Bu, many other farmers have received financial support from ABC through an innovative credit guarantee system," said Lu.

Xia Naijiu, a farmer raising chickens in Jiangduo Town, Liugang Village, Taizhou City, in east China's Jiangsu Province, has also taken an ABC micro-credit loan.

Xia borrowed 50,000 yuan from his local ABC branch in January this year, which enabled him to buy enough chicken feed for his 20,000 egg-laying chickens.

Xia estimates the egg sales will bring him 150,000 yuan in net profit this year.

By the end of the first quarter of 2010, ABC lent 67.3 billion yuan via micro-credit business, up 23 percent compared with the sum at the end of last year, according to Lu.

These loans benefited 4.45 million households, or 15 million rural residents, Lu added.

However, the loans' value is only two percent of the four trillion yuan ABC loaned in 2009, said Zhao Baige, deputy director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

Given there are 720 million residents in rural China, the beneficiaries of the loans merely account for two percent of the country's rural population, Zhao added.

Up until now, almost 3,000 rural townships in China - around nine percent of the country's total - have not had a banking branch, said Tang Renjian, deputy director of the Central Finance Leading Group office.

The development of China's rural areas has been hampered by the areas' inadequate access to finance, Tang said.

"It is ABC's responsibility to finance China's rural development. The bank has a good branch network in the countryside," said Lu Chuan.

"By experimenting with new ways to get credit to the countryside, I believe ABC can develop its rural business rapidly in the future, given the next driver of the Chinese economy is urbanization," Lu added.

Beijing-based ABC launched its IPO at the Shanghai bourse Thursday and on the Hong Kong bourse Friday. It was the last of China's "big four" state-owned banks to float its shares.

The three other big state-owned banks - the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank, and Bank of China - are already listed on both the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges.

ABC had 8.89 trillion yuan in assets by 2009, accounting for 11.3 percent of the total assets of China's banking industry, according to ABC's IPO prospectus.

The bank reported a net profit of 65 billion yuan last year, up 26.3 percent from the 2008 level.

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