Even though the new government put forward an ambitious plan to develop the rural economy and increase farmers’ income, some experts say this year’s target will be hard to achieve owing to the outbreak of SARS, and floods and droughts across the country.
During the 16th Part Congress, Zeng Peiyan, minister in charge of the State Development Planning Commission at that time, said in his report that farmers’ net income should increase 4 percent in 2003. The per capita income was 2,476 yuan (US$298.78) in 2002, so there should be an increase of 99.04 yuan (US$12) this year.
Data shows that farmers earned 70 to 80 percent of their total income by working in cities in many places. SARS made some farm workers lose at least one month’s salary. China has nearly 100 million farm workers. Liu Jian, vice minister of agriculture said on May 15 that 8 million farm workers returned home. Among them, 4 million returned routinely, while the other 4 million was because of SARS.
Since the Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Culture released notices to identify public places where SARS was found to stop business on April 23, most hotels, restaurants and entertainment places in big cities stopped business to prevent the spread of the disease. And most of their employees were farm workers.
Zeng Wei is a 23 years old farm worker from Anhui Province. He engages in house fitting in the Beijing suburbs. Zeng is a skilled worker and can earn 1,500 yuan (US$181) per month sometimes. But since SARS broke out, house fitting has stopped and he has had to stay in rented accommodation while waiting for work to start.
“One month has passed and I do not know when I can start work again,” Zeng said worriedly.
Most farmer workers also suffer discriminations in the disaster except from the disease itself. “SARS has certainly reduced farmers’ incomes and the task of increasing their income is harder to realize in some places,” said Wang Xiaoying, a worker with the Rural Development Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Flood and Drought Drive Farmers to the City
Floods in Hunan, Guangdong, Jiangxi and Jiangsu provinces caused losses of 2 billion yuan (US$241 million) and left 4 million suffering in Hunan Province.
The flood hit Yueyang, Hunan Province heavily. The city has a population of 5.2 million and has 800,000 farm workers. Working in urban places added farmer per capita income by 130 yuan (US$16) in 2002, which accounts for 48.4 percent of farmers’ net income. The labor service has become a main channel to increase farmers’ income and develop rural economy in the city.
Meanwhile, Inner Mongolia, northeast and northwest China suffered heavy droughts. Northeast China was harassed by a five-year drought and this year’s situation is even worse than previous years.
“Floods and droughts drive more farmers to work in the cities, ” said Wu Jingxue, a worker of the Agricultural Economy Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
Wu added that China at present has 250 to 270 million spare laborers in the countryside and the number will continue to increase until the Chinese population reaches 1.6 billion.
Premier Wen Jiabao held the second overall conference of the State Council to research on the economic development plan after SARS on May 21. In the meeting, he emphasized on “helping farmer workers get jobs.”
“We are researching and making regulations to protect farmers’ profits,” said Zhang Hongyu, vice director of the Policy and Regulation Department, Ministry of Agriculture. He added that the government is estimating farmers’ losses due to natural disasters to carry out practical aids and compensation.
An expert said China’s rural problems could not be settled in the short term. The present disasters will make people pay more attention to farmers and help these settlements.
Yin Chenjie, vice head of the research office under the State Council, said existing big and middle cities can not absorb rural spare laborers in such a large scale, so we should develop more small, middle and large cities and correspond their developments.
Government planed skill training for farmers during industry structural adjustments in the countryside. While because of costs and farmers’ low education level, the plan has not been implemented well.
The Chinese government have realized farm workers’ effects on economic development and existing rural problems.
In January, the State Council published a regulation to strengthen management and services for farm workers. The regulation requires to give farm workers equal treatment and abolish unreasonable regulations.
The Hukou system also causes lively disputation on the Internet.
Experts in farmer problems, Wen Tiejun said as there is no united farmer workers' management organization and the market needs much improvement, it is hard for farmer workers to get equal treatment.
(China.org.cn by Feng Yikun, June 6, 2003)