The Ministry of Agriculture Tuesday pledged to speed up the structural reform of rural employment to help solve the problem of China's surplus rural workforce of 100 million.
The country had a total of 480 million rural workers at the end of 2000, with 328 million of them engaged in agricultural production, according to ministry figures.
The number of surplus rural laborers in China is expected to increase by over 8 million a year over the next five years, according to Xue Liang, director of the ministry's Development Planning Department.
Xue Tuesday delivered a report to the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress - China's top legislative body - on how his ministry will meet the opportunities and challenges brought by China's entry into the World Trade Organization.
He said Chinese experts have estimated that the country's WTO entry will lead to there being 20 million fewer job vacancies for the nation's farmers.
"The problem of surplus rural laborers will become even more serious in major grain, cotton and oil-producing areas," he said.
Xue said the ministry will work to bring labor-intensive industries such as animal breeding and aquaculture into full play to create more job opportunities for farmers.
At the same time, the ministry will strive to expand the range of possible employment for farmers, Xue said.
The ministry vowed to promote the construction of small towns and cities, making them "a reservoir" for the creation of job opportunities for surplus rural laborers.
It said that, in this way, more rural laborers will move from traditional agricultural production to manufacturing and service sector, which is an important component of structural reform in rural employment.
The ministry will enhance training to improve farmers' working skills and their ability to adapt to the market economy.
It will help establish intermediate agencies to help farmers find jobs in the service sector, Xue said.
The ministry will continue its support for the development of township enterprises so that they will employ more rural laborers, Xue added.
The nation's township enterprises currently employ 128 million rural workers.
The ministry will give the same emphasis to the structural reform of rural employment as it has already given to the structural reform of rural industry, Xue told the legislators.
China's entry into the WTO last December has had a direct negative impact on Chinese rural products, some of which were uncompetitive, said Xue.
Increased imports of foreign agricultural products will sharpen competition in the domestic market. This will further reduce the ability of agriculture to absorb rural laborers, Xue added.
(China Daily February 27, 2002)