All of the work in China's agricultural sector must boil down to reversing the downturn in the growth of farmers' incomes, Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin said at the weekend in Beijing.
This is the most prominent problem for the country's rural economy, the minister conceded at a two-day national conference organized by the ministry that ended on Saturday.
The outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) upset the growth of the animal husbandry sector, the employment of rural migrant workers in cities and sales of farm produce, Du told regional agricultural chiefs at the meeting.
As a result, farmers' per capita cash income grew by a meagre 2.5 per cent in the first half of this year, a growth rate 3.4 percentage points lower than the same period last year, said Yao Jingyuan, a spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics.
In light of this situation, Du said his ministry will see to it that farmers can benefit from the whole process of the production, processing and distribution of agricultural products, not just from the production phase as in the past.
The ministry has been vigorously developing the farm produce processing, storage and transportation industries. It has been encouraging agricultural enterprises to sign contracts with farmers so that the farmers can share the added value that derives from their raw materials.
One of the ministry's main aims is to sharpen the competitive edge of Chinese farm produce and improve the efficiency of the agricultural sector by highlighting quality control and tapping existing potential, Du said.
In a key document released last week, the State Council said China will increase its investment in agriculture to help farmers earn more and live more comfortably.
Apart from the 25.7 billion yuan (US$3.1 billion) in funding already earmarked early this year, the government has allocated an additional 3.25 billion yuan (US$393 million) in treasury bonds to be spent in the remainder of this year on launching drinking water projects, building roads in the countryside and fortifying ageing reservoirs.
Du said the infrastructure projects in rural areas will employ mainly farmers, giving them another avenue to increase their income.
Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu told the conference that the central government has been investing more and more in agriculture and rural areas, China's national economy has continued to develop, and the rural economy is still growing.
(China Daily August 11, 2003)