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Farming Sets Goals to Raise Productivity

Efforts to raise agricultural productivity even in the wake of last year's record grain output and farmers incomes are to be stepped up, the minister responsible said yesterday.


In addition to redoubling efforts to protect farmland, billions of yuan will be spent rewarding grain producers and to strengthen rural infrastructure.


Hailing 2004 as an extraordinary year, Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin told a press conference the nation's grain production rose 9 percent year on year to hit 469.5 million tons and farmers earnings went up by 6.8 percent the highest rate since 1997.


"But we should not be blinded by the achievements," said Du.


China's goal for 2005 is to see a steady and sustained increase in both grain production and farmers incomes, he said on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the National People's Congress.


The plight of those living and working in the countryside, home to two thirds of the population, have featured high on the agendas of many deputies to the National People's Congress.


The agricultural chief conceded the goals set for this year are tough, but did not elaborate.


One worrying aspect has been the ever-shrinking area of arable land the country has lost 6.67 million hectares of farmland to development projects and other uses in the seven years since 1996, the minister said.


Last year's bumper harvest was largely attributable to a reversal of farmland shrinkage for the first time since 1999, when crops expanded by 2.2 million hectares to reach 101.6 million hectares, said Du.


Therefore, the country will implement the strictest-possible measures to protect arable land.


"Land is the lifeblood of farmers ... We'll deal with (land use) disputes in an appropriate way and strive to guarantee that farmland is not reduced, that it is not encroached upon for other purposes or degraded in quality," he continued.


Considering two-thirds of the country's cropland is relatively low yielding, Vice-Minister of Finance Zhu Zhigang yesterday said US$1.97 billion would be earmarked for improving productivity this year.


And Vice-Minister of Science and Technology Li Xueyong said his ministry is spearheading a national scientific and technological project to raise productivity.


Rewarding producers


To spur grain productivity, the central budget will offer 5.5 billion yuan (US$662 million) as cash rewards to outstanding producers, said Vice-Minister Zhu.


The bonus, to be given over three years, will be divided among the top 800 grain-producing counties which churn out 60 percent of the nation's output, he said.


The money will help some counties out of dire financial straits brought about by their lack of product variety and relatively low economic returns.


He cautioned any county that misuses the fund, such as for vanity projects, will be deleted from the list of beneficiaries.


Direct subsidies to grain-producing farmers, which totalled 11.6 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) last year, will increase by 10 percent in 2005, the minister said.


(China Daily March 11, 2005)


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