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Chinese Premier Visits Grain Farmers

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said that the central government's new policies to favor grain producers had taken effect, a conclusion from his chats with farmers in north China's Hebei Province on Sunday.

Last year, Wen had impressed his people by shaking hands with AIDS patients and helping a common rural woman obtain defaulted wages for her husband. This time, the affable Premier squatted with farmers to check the seedling growth.

"Do you know the central government has issued policies to support farming?" he asked. Then he shifted to more specific questions concerning the prices of the wheat and carbamide, a chemical fertilizer, as well as grain reserves at the farmer's home.

He was delighted when the farmer reflected that the local government was helpful, the grain prices were climbing and farmers were willing to grow crops.

The Premier even explained to these rural residents in detail the government's new policies, including purchasing grains at protected prices, cutting down on agriculture taxes and subsidizing grain producers directly.

Problems concerning agriculture, rural areas and farmers have been listed as a top priority in all government work at the Second Session of the Tenth National People's Congress early this March.

The Chinese government will earmark 10 billion yuan (US$1.21 billion) this year from its grain risk fund to directly subsidize grain farmers, to alleviate falling output and slow income growth.

From 1997 to 2003, the per capita income of farmers rose four percent annually on average, in sharp contrast to an eight percent jump in the disposable income of urban dwellers. Farmers have complained that planting grain crops is less lucrative than growing fruit, fish or poultry, which experts fear as a potential threat to the country's food security.

Wen also pointed to the government's work to cancel agriculture taxes in five years, another testimony to the country's growing concern for its 900 million rural population.

During his inspection, Wen stressed the basic way of ensuring stable grain output is to protect the arable land. "All local governments should carry out strict measures to forbid any illegal occupation and damage of farmland, and should restore and expand the acreage of sowing grains."

Late this March, the government issued new regulations to ban conversion of cropland into orchards, fishery ponds, forests and poultry sheds and limit the amount of land to be used for greenbelts along rural roads, hoping to curb the fast loss of arable land.

Statistics show that 2.5 million hectares of land were taken out of cultivation last year, compared with 1.7 million hectares in 2002.

Wen also urged local governments to organize experts to offer farmers technical training and to dispatch officials to publicize the central policies among rural areas, in an effort to revive farmers' motivation for grain production.

He reassured the farmers that the government would strengthen supervision over the prices of production materials for farming, especially the chemical fertilizers. "Severe penalties will be given for production and sales of related fake or inferior products."

(Xinhua News Agency April 5, 2004)

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