China is initiating a new round of rural reforms aimed at lightening
farmers' burdens and increasing their income.
This is regarded
as a major move following the land reforms of the 1950s, which
abolished the centuries-old feudalist land ownership system,
and the introduction of the household-based contract responsibility
system linking payment to output in the 1980s.
In his report on
the Outline of the 10th Five-Year Plan for National Economic
and Social Development (2001-05) to the current session of
the National People's Congress, Premier Zhu Rongji stressed
the foundation role of agriculture in the economy and the
importance of increasing farmers' income, saying that these
are the primary tasks of economic work for the next five years.
His report was
applauded by economists and farmer NPC deputies attending
the annual session.
The level of farmers'
income has a direct bearing on rural development and stability,
said Cai Lifeng, mayor of the major grain producing city of
Yiyang in Hunan Province. The new round of rural reform means
a major realignment of different interests in the countryside,
and it will find an answer to the fundamental problem concerning
the long-term stable development of the rural areas, he noted.
In China, with
a rural population of 900 million, the issues of farmers,
agriculture and the rural economy have always been the top
priorities of the government's work. The previous two rounds
of rural reform all brought about profound changes in rural
areas, enabling the country with only 7 per cent of the world's
arable land to feed 22 per cent of the world's population.
Together with the
rapid economic growth, problems in agricultural development
and the rural economy have become more and more outstanding
just as Chen Jiyuan, an economist, predicted. Farmers' income
has been dropping for years in a row; the urban-rural income
gap is steadily widening; the rural market, with its millions
of consumers, has remained dormant, making it impossible to
realize the potential of this, the biggest market in the world.
Some places have
imposed on farmers the expenses of public utilities and welfare
undertakings that should have come from local finances. The
heavy burden has put farmers into sharp conflict with local
officials, threatening to destabilize the rural social order.
According to official
statistics, the annual income of farmers in 1996 increased
by 9 percent over the preceding year. But the increase had
dropped to 4.3 percent by 1998 and further down to 2 percent
by 2000, far lower than the 6.8 percent per capita annual
income increase in urban areas. Even in the economically developed
coastal Jiangsu Province, 60 percent of the farmers complained
about their big drops in income in 2000.
Lu Xueyi, a rural
economic expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,
said the waning initiative of farmers in grain production
because of declining income has sounded the alarm again on
China's grain security. The big drop in grain production in
2000 is an ominous signal, he noted.
Year Plan of the Chinese Government admitted that China's
population is increasing steadily, but the amount of arable
land is decreasing. Water is in short supply and most areas
have to make a living at the mercy of nature.
attention should be directed in the new millennium to further
securing the food supply for a fifth of the world's population
and enable the rural population, which accounts for 80 per
cent of the total national population, to become the main
power to pushing domestic demand.
The new round of
rural reforms is strategic in nature. It involves the introduction
of a new grain distribution system featuring State purchase
of grain at protective prices and good prices for good quality
products, the change in rural financial services, market-oriented
production and the change in the taxation and fee collection
The reform of the
taxation and fee collection system involves the scrapping
of all fee collection items by townships and villages and
the raising of agricultural tax rates due to be levied by
governments at the next level up, thus denying townships and
villages the opportunity to collect fees directly from farmers.
areas requires institutional reforms, including standardizing
government behavior and shifting government functions, said
His views were
shared by many other NPC deputies, who said county and township
governmental organs are too bloated, breeding formalism and
bureaucracy that have eroded the confidence of the people
in the government.
Wang Taihua, Party
secretary of Anhui Province and an NPC deputy, said the township
finance in Anhui is so overloaded that each township has to
support about 300 government workers.
It has been disclosed
that the country will cut the number of staff members of governmental
organs at county and township levels by 20 per cent, while
at the same time central and provincial finance will provide
townships and villages with subsidies to make up for their