On Wednesday China promulgated its first document for 2008, calling for greater efforts to address rural problems while the nation, with a rural population of 900 million, is combating mounting inflationary pressure and striving for sustained, rapid and healthy economic growth.
The first document, issued by the central committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council every year, is dubbed the No.1 central document. This is the fifth year in a row in which the No. 1 central document has focused on rural problems. The keynote for this year centers on consolidating the foundation of agriculture.
In the previous four No. 1 documents, the key phrases were increasing farmers' income (2004), improving agricultural production capacity (2005), pushing forward the "new countryside" scheme (2006) and developing modern agriculture (2007).
China's consumer price index (CPI) rose 4.8 percent last year, with the inflation indicator hitting an 11-year-high of 6.9 percent in November, well above the government target of 3 percent.
Since food has a weighting of 32.74 percent in the CPI, the stable supply of such commodities, farm produce in particular, will be a decisive factor behind China's efforts to curb inflation.
China harvested 500 billion kilograms of grain in 2007, achieving production growth for the fourth year in a row. However, Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai said that the output had failed to meet domestic demand for the year.
Official statistics show that over the past decade, China's population has increased by 90.59 million, but the per-capita grain supply has decreased from 412 kg in 1996 to 378 kg in 2006. Meanwhile, 210 million of the 900 million rural population began to work for urban and township enterprises. This shift meant fewer people producing grain and more people consuming.
Under these circumstances, the key to ensuring food supplies lies in endeavors to consolidate the agriculture base.
Fortifying the agriculture base
The No. 1 central document ordered that an enduring mechanism for consolidating the base of agriculture should be quickly developed; great importance should be attached to grain production, and supply and demand for major farm products should be balanced with product safety guaranteed.
To achieve these goals, the document stressed that any increased spending on agriculture this year should be clearly higher than last year, the increase in fixed-asset investment in rural areas should exceed the year-earlier level and farm subsidies should be raised.
Observers here said that given continuous, substantial growth in tax revenues, China was financially powerful enough to let industry support agriculture and cities support rural areas.
According to Han Jun, head of the rural department of the Development Research Center of the State Council, in 2007 China injected 42.7 billion yuan (5.9 billion U.S. dollars) into rural areas as direct subsidies for grain production and the purchase of agricultural inputs, up 63 percent from 2006.
Last year also saw the central government spend 36 billion yuan, including money raised through treasury bonds, toward improving living and production conditions in rural areas. The total included 30 billion yuan for road construction, water and electricity supplies.
Another 1 billion yuan went to small irrigation projects and 3.2 billion yuan toward revamping reservoirs.
Seeking ways to integrate urban with rural areas
Observers believed the integration of urban and rural areas would be the ultimate solution to the yawning disparities between both regions and their people.
An increase in farm incomes has for years remained at the top of government concerns.
There is still an impoverished rural population of just over 20 million, even though it dropped from more than 250 million some three decades ago.
According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, per-capita disposable income was 13,786 yuan in urban areas last year, up 17.2 percent, or 12.2 percent in real terms, while per-capita income was 4,140 yuan in rural areas, up 15.4 percent, or a real 9.5 percent.
China is seeking ways to unite development strategies, distribution of different trades and infrastructure construction for both urban and rural areas. New policies were needed to integrate employment and social management and equalize basic public services in urban and rural areas.
In terms of public services, according to the No. 1 central document, textbooks would be provided free for students under the compulsory education system in all rural areas, subsistence allowances should increase for boarders from low-income rural families and more such students should be covered by the service, and subsidies should be raised for public funds and teaching building maintenance fees of primary and middle schools in rural areas.
The quality of teachers in rural primary and middle schools should be raised and college graduates would be encouraged to teach at such schools.
This year, the new rural cooperative medical care system would expand to cover all rural residents and government spending on the system would be increased, according to the document. It said construction of medical service networks should be reinforced and pharmaceutical supply for rural areas should be supervised.
A social welfare system should be built and improved for all rural areas and more should be spent on poverty relief, the document added.
Observers said they believed that land-use rights transfers and the declining number of peasants who were confined to the land through such transfers would be key to the integration of urban and rural areas and hence the narrowing of disparities.
According to the document, the basic system for rural operations and land contract relations will be stabilized and improved. The market for transferring land contract and management rights will be improved in line with the law and on a voluntary, compensated basis.
Some experiments with the land contract and management right transfer market have been conducted in some areas.
Leng Gang, the former party head of Shuangliu County in Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern Sichuan Province, said his county encouraged arable land to be held by large-scale farmers to support the development of efficient modern agriculture and economies of scale.
Peasants were encouraged to lease land and benefit from such leases, and they could either work for large-scale farmers or find paid jobs outside their hometowns. Manufacturing and service industries were being expanded to provide more jobs for peasants who abandoned their land use rights and apartments would be built for them in urban areas.
(Xinhua News Agency January 31, 2008)