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Grain Output Expected to Hit 455 Million Tons Next Year

China's grain output is expected to hit 455 million tons in 2004, Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin said yesterday in Beijing.

"2004 is a key year to recover grain production and to avert the (detrimental) reverse of the supply-demand relations," Du told a national agricultural conference yesterday.

Du's prediction comes after the nation's grain output witnessed a year-on-year fall of 26.4 million tons in 2003.

The meeting coincided with the Central Rural Work Conference, which stressed the importance of supporting the agricultural sector and ensuring farmers' incomes grow more rapidly.

The country may harvest 430.6 million tons of grain in 2003, down by 5.8 percent from last year, according to the ministry's projections.

A chronic decline in grain yields and a shrinkage of the crop-sowing area over the past few years have sounded alarm bells among the country's agricultural decision-makers, Du conceded.

In part, the situation has caused China's grain production to fall short of consumption for four years in a row. In mid-October, the country experienced price hikes in grain that it had not encountered over the past six years.

"We should bring farmers' grain production initiative into full display, while protecting and improving the grain production capacity," Du said.

In addition to optimizing the crop growing mix, the country will reserve 100 million hectares of farmland for grain strains next year, the minister said.

Grain production aside, Du also listed increasing farmers' incomes as a key task for the coming year.

Despite the impact of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in the second quarter of this year, the income of Chinese farmers is anticipated to grow by 4 percent this year, Du said.

To underscore the important contribution of the urban work to farmers' income growth, Du said his ministry will see to it that at least 100 million rural residents will transfer to off-farm jobs in 2004.

The minister also said China's imports and exports of farm produce reached US$35.49 billion in the January-November period, a jump of 30.3 percent from the same period last year.

(China Daily December 26, 2003)

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