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Farmers' Enthusiasm Revived for Grain Production

Chinese farmers have regained enthusiasm for grain production thanks to the government incentives policies aimed at averting the drop in grain output.

"Grain acreage has increased universally across the country, and in Hubei, Sichuan and Jiangsu provinces alone, farmers expanded the acreage by 514,700 hectares this year," said Liu Mingzu, chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature.

The NPC Standing Committee sent in mid-May three groups of legislators to the three provinces for an on-the-spot study to see how the government policies to encourage grain production had worked in these places.

Over the last few years, Chinese farmers became less active in growing grain crops because of the low returns. Lots of them turned to doing odd jobs in cities, leaving the farmland idle or little cared for.

As a result, China's grain acreage and grain yield kept dropping since 2000. Grain acreage went down from 113 million hectares in 1998 to 100 million hectares last year.

The price of major grain products, including rice and wheat, rose markedly since last October, fueling concern about the nation's food security.

Since the beginning of this year, the government promulgated a series of measures to rejuvenate grain production. On many occasions, top state leaders visited farm fields for firsthand information about grain production and the income of farmers.

Major agriculture policies adopted this year to support agriculture include lowering the agriculture tax, giving subsidies to grain growers directly, subsidizing farmers who use fine grain strains and setting minimum purchasing prices for staple grain products.

The government allocated a record 150 billion yuan (US$18.1 billion) from the central finance to agriculture, in addition to 10 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) out of the grain risk fund as direct subsides to grain growers in major grain producing areas.

"These policies have won universal support from local officials and farmers. The farmers' enthusiasm to grow grain crops has been elevated," Liu said.

Now that the summer grain harvest has come to an end, Agriculture Minister Du Qinglin predicted China's summer grain yield this year would increased by around 2.5 billion kilograms, or about 3 percent.

However, the rekindled enthusiasm also brought about new problems, including how to meet the grain growers' demand for more farmland, how to distribute direct subsidies in a fair and reasonable way, how to stabilize the prices of materials for grain production, and how to ensure the continuity of the polices, said Liu, citing the results of the NPC Standing Committee study groups.

The three study groups will report their research results at the on-going meeting of the NPC Standing Committee, and legislators will offer their solutions to these problems, Liu said.

He revealed that at the present stage, the NPC would consider legislation on input in agriculture, public welfare establishments in rural areas, rural finance and insurance.

(Xinhua News Agency June 23, 2004)

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