Grain output challenged as drought persists

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Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has warned that meeting this year's grain output goal of 500 billion kilograms would be "a test for sure" as severe drought in the southwest is likely to continue.

In addition to the persistent drought in the southwestern regions, a long and cold winter in north China would lead to a decline in wheat output, said the premier during a three-day trip to the drought-plagued Yunnan Province from March 19 to 21.

On his trip, Wen went to drought-hit villages, farmlands and reservoirs to learn about the impact that the drought had on local life and farm production.

The drought has resulted in a direct economic loss of 23.66 billion yuan and left more than 18 million locals short of drinking water as of Tuesday, according to latest figures from the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Despite all those adverse conditions, Wen said China "should strive for a good harvest this year".

The premier said priority should be given to the preparations for spring farming, urging local governments to make utmost efforts to combat the drought, prevent plant diseases, and ensure a good supply of fertilizer, pesticide and seeds.

He also called for local governments' efforts to encourage farmers to expand the area of spring farming.

The Chinese government set a goal in February, targeting grain output to exceed 500 billion kg this year.

The country's grain output reached 530.8 billion kg in 2009, representing the sixth straight year of increase in output and exceeding 500 billion kg for the third consecutive year.

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