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Crucial rural knowledge
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The second national census on agriculture shed needed light on the latest progress and problems in the development of agriculture and the countryside. Policymakers should make full use of the basic data to boost rural development more effectively.

China's statistical authorities published yesterday the first part of the findings of its second national agricultural survey. The survey covered more than 650,000 villages and nearly 230 million households. It collected data on agricultural production, the rural labor force and rural employment, living conditions of rural residents, and the environment of rural communities.

A systematic analysis of the new findings is yet to be conducted to better guide work related to farming and rural areas. But some updated information about the rural labor force should be of immediate concern for policymakers.

One is the number of agrarian technicians that dropped from 2.72 million in 1996 when the first agricultural census was held to only 2.07 million in 2006.

In the face of a widening wealth gap between urban and rural residents, the government has always made it a priority to accelerate agricultural growth as one of the means to raise farmers' income. Given the country's shrinking arable land, faster agricultural growth should presuppose higher productivity. If the army of agrarian technicians and specialists continues to contract, it is hard to sustain agricultural growth in the long run though the country has managed to reap several bumper harvests in recent years.

The central government has promised to significantly increase the budget for rural infrastructure this year to boost agricultural development. More government expenditure for the construction of water, gas and electricity projects, as well as in agricultural technology are certainly needed. But to boost agricultural growth, policymakers should also pay equal attention to foster a strong army of agrarian technicians now.

Another important finding of the agricultural census is that the number of farmer-turned migrant workers increased from 72.2 million in 1996 to 132 million in 2006 while the total rural labor force declined from 561 million to 531 million.

The move for more cheap laborers from less-profitable agricultural production to the more efficient industrial sector in urban areas has proved a good way to both raise farmers' income and sharpen China's global competitiveness in manufacturing. But a review of urban policies that stand in the way to integrate these newcomers with their urban cousins has become more urgent.

(China Daily, February 22, 2008)

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