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China saw 80 million less farmers 1996-2006
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The number of rural Chinese following the plough shrank by more than 80 million between 1996 and 2006, according to the results of a national agriculture census released online on Thursday.

At the end of 2006, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said, 70.8 percent of working rural people were engaged in some type of agriculture -- farming, forestry, livestock breeding, fishing and related services. That was nearly 5 percentage points down from the end of 1996, the NBS said.

The rest were in the secondary and tertiary industries.

The number of migrant rural workers stood at 130 million, nearly 60 million more than a decade earlier, said the NBS, citing figures from China's second national agriculture census.

Among migrant laborers, 64 percent were male, 82.1 percent were aged below 40 and 80.1 percent were educated to at least junior middle school level.

There were 530 million people in the labor force in rural regions and about 480 million, or 90.1 percent, were working as of the end of 2006, according to the census results.

These findings reflected conditions among 226 million rural households nationwide.

China's rural survey is the largest in the world. The census collected data on agricultural production, the rural labor force and employment, rural living conditions and the environment of rural communities. The first census was in 1996.

Agriculture remains the weakest link in the Chinese economy, which has forged ahead with a double-digit annual growth and a widening gap between cities and the countryside at the same time.

The State Council issued last month the first policy document of the year, vowing to set up a permanent mechanism of closing urban-rural gaps.

The government has boosted investment in the countryside, slashed fees and taxes for farmers, rolled out favorable medical care schemes and strengthened protection of farmers' land rights and migrant rural workers' interests.

Census figures show the mechanization level of agriculture was lifted, with the share of land ploughed with machinery instead of by labor power expanding 17.8 percentage points to 59.9 percent of the total tilled earth.

It noted rural infrastructure was enhanced evidently, but findings show 75.5 percent of villages in the whole country still had no central water purifying systems, while 84.2 percent lacked garbage treatment plants and 79.4 percent had unhygienic toilets.

Hamlets with gym facilities or libraries only accounted for less than 15 percent of the total. Licensed medical practitioners were unavailable in 23.9 percent of all villages.

The central government was likely to raise its 2008 rural budget to some 520 billion yuan (72.2 billion U.S. dollars) from last year's 392 billion yuan, according to Chen Xiwen, director of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Rural Work.

China invested 420 billion yuan last year in the countryside, representing a record-high increase of 80 billion yuan from 2006.

(Xinhua News Agency February 22, 2008)

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