The Chinese government will put on top agenda the development of agriculture and increase of farmers' incomes this year, according to the Central Conference on Rural Work concluded in Beijing Friday.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin's has recently urged the nation never to relax its efforts in consolidating the basis of agriculture. It is crucial to push forward agricultural reform, restructuring of the rural economy and increase farmers' incomes so as to guarantee national grain security and social stability in the rural areas, he said.
At the meeting, Chinese Vice Premier Wen Jiabao made a speech and the participants discussed the decisions put forward by the central government on this year's work in the agricultural sector and rural areas.
According to the meeting, since the beginning of last year, the agricultural sector and rural economy have been developing steadily. Marked progress has resulted from the restructuring of the rural economy, industrialization and market-oriented reforms in the agricultural sector.
The meeting pointed out that the slow growth of farmers' incomes has become a major problem. It noted that the lackluster sales and low prices of farm produce had shown no sign of improvement. Farmers' incomes in some grain production regions are declining. As a result, the income gap between urban and rural residents continue to widen.
The meeting urged the government to take agricultural restructuring and increasing farmers' incomes as central tasks.
If farmers' incomes do not increase in future, farmers will lose interest in production. Slow improvement in the purchasing power of farmers will not only dampen the demand for industrial products, but also create a weak farm produce market.
According to the meeting, it is a very arduous task to resolve the problems of farmers' incomes.
The meeting pointed out that in increasing the income of farmers, it is imperative to increase spending on the agriculture sector and to improve the environment for the development of the rural economy.
"The most effective approach to reach the goal is to increase the overall efficiency of agriculture by restructuring the sector and rural economy, which is bound to create many new jobs for farmers," according to the meeting.
Therefore, strong measures should be taken to improve grain quality and processing of agricultural products, to speed up the development of industrial and service sectors in the rural areas, and to promote the restructuring of rural enterprises.
It is also imperative to implement the urbanization strategy by developing small towns and accelerating the transfer of surplus rural laborers to promote the coordinated development of urban and rural economies, it was said at the meeting.
The meeting called for the advancing of agricultural science and technology to improve the efficiency of traditional agricultural operation with modern technology while the development of animal husbandry is accelerated.
The restructuring of agriculture and the rural economy is a long process, it was noted at the meeting, calling for protecting farmers' enthusiasm and bringing their initiatives to full play.
Participants to the meeting placed great importance to continuing poverty-reduction efforts in rural areas.
After years of work, the problem of providing enough food and clothing to poverty-stricken people in the rural areas has basically been solved in China,
"But this is by no means an end to poverty-alleviation work," the meeting noted, adding that many farmers who no longer live in poverty are still vulnerable to natural disasters. It was announced at the meeting that in the tenth Five-Year-Plan period (2001-2005), China will take poverty alleviation as a major measure in boosting farmers' incomes, with priority given to areas inhabited by ethnic groups and the poverty-stricken regions in the middle and western regions of the country.
The meeting also emphasized the importance of agriculture in ensuring grain safety of the state, noting that agriculture has always supported economic development and social stability in the process of restructuring the national economy.
The meeting called for the agriculture sector to face new challenges arising from the country's accession to the World Trade Organization and urged governments at all levels to render more support to agriculture, especially to face the current problem of a surplus of agricultural products. "Providing sufficient food to the more than 1.2 billion Chinese remains the top task of the country," the meeting stressed.
The Chinese government will take concrete measures to ensure adequate food supply and food safety this year.
These measures include protecting the country's arable land, maintaining farmers' production initiatives, enhancing the grain output level in major production areas and improving the co-ordination system of grain reserves, the meeting noted.
The relationship between restructuring the agricultural sector and a stable grain production must be properly handled, it was stressed at the meeting.
The reform of replacing arbitrary fees imposed by local authorities with taxes is a key policy adopted by the central government to protect farmers' initiatives and interests.
It is also important to long-term rural development and stability, according to the meeting.
Maintaining stability in rural areas is a "prerequisite" for rural reforms and development, the meeting pointed out.
The meeting stressed that all policies must be strictly carried out in rural areas to safeguard the rights and interests of farmers.
The conference also outlined ten major tasks for rural work this year:
---- Promoting agricultural restructuring and enhancing the overall performance of the rural sector;
---- Ensuring sufficient food supply and improving the economic returns of grain production;
---- Transferring surplus rural labors to other sectors and gradually increasing the incomes of farmers;
---- Stepping up rural tax reforms to ease the burden of farmers;
---- Increasing investment in agriculture and infrastructure in the rural areas;
---- Deepening technological and educational reforms;
---- Reforming the rural credit cooperatives and improving financial services;
---- Continuing poverty alleviation programs and improving farmers' production and living standards;
---- Further opening up the rural sector to the outside world to participate in global competition;
---- And promoting the overall social progress in rural areas.