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Technology Solution to Agricultural Challenges

Governments need to better harness technology to improve rural livelihoods, officials and academics agreed on Friday at an international workshop on agriculture and rural development in Beijing.

As well as increasing the level and application of agricultural technology, speeding up the transfer of farmers to non-agricultural jobs is a key to China's problem of sluggish rural income growth, Justin Lin, a leading Chinese expert, told the workshop.

The two-day gathering, sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), discussed the future of rural areas and agriculture in an urbanizing and globalizing world, as well as the prospects of agricultural technology development.

Speaking on Friday's opening ceremony, FAO Director General Jacques Diouf said harnessing the best of modern science and technology is a challenge.

"We need the best of modern science and technology to meet the challenges of an increasingly commercialized and globalized agricultural sector, and to provide new impetus for addressing the age-old problems of production variability and food insecurity of rural populations living in marginal production environments," he said.

Diouf's point was echoed by M.S. Swaminathan, president of the Indian National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, who said population-rich but land-hungry countries such as China and India have to produce more grain per unit of land and water with diminishing per-capita availabilities.

"Such a challenge can be met only by harnessing the best technologies and blending them with our heritage of ecological prudence," Swaminathan said.

Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin said China has embarked on a strategy of revitalizing agriculture through science and technology, and has made headway in areas such as bio-technology.

In addition, a "Fine Seed Project" carried out in China since the mid-1990s has ensured that 95 percent of the seeds for major crops are top-grade seeds, the minister said.

Diouf said that in most countries, the scientific, political, economic or institutional basis is not yet in place to provide adequate safeguards for bio-technology development and application, or to reap all the potential benefits.

Justin Lin, director of the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University, said the authorities should facilitate translation of agricultural technology and research results into productivity, and promote innovations in agricultural technology.

As the ratio of per-capita net income between urban and rural residents has expanded to 3.2:1 last year from 1.8:1 two decades ago, Lin said moving more farmers to non-agricultural sectors will turn many food producers into consumers.

(China Daily September 10, 2005)

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