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Pollution-free Produce Key to Raising Rural Incomes
Pollution-free produce was yesterday singled out as the key to fattening the wallets of Chinese farmers.

An improvement in the quality of meats, fruit and vegetables will spur demand for farm produce, increasing incomes in the countryside.

Agricultural leaders joined with science and technology chiefs yesterday to pledge further support for the Spark Program, a national plan to boost the rural economy through technological progress.

Priority will go to the restructuring of agricultural production by developing more food industries and improving the quality of farm products, Minister of Science and Technology Xu Guanhua said yesterday.

Xu told a national conference on the Spark Program which opened yesterday in Baoji, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, that efforts will focus on developing pollution-free grains, vegetables, fruit, meat, egg and aquatic products, according to a press release from the ministry.

The so-called Spark Program was approved by the central government in 1986 to propel rural economic development through the use of advanced science and technology.

Another step is to build science parks or technology towns to accelerate the commercialization of farming techniques.

Regional governments should work harder to equip farmers with more farming skills, Xu said. Skills for commerce and industry were also relevant for migrant workers who move from rural to urban areas.

Information technology will spread more widely to help farmers receive updated information on agricultural production, marketing services and farming skills.

The Spark Program will be improved in accordance with the standards of the World Trade Organization to raise the competitiveness of the country's farm products, Xu said.

Sources from the Ministry of Science and Technology said the program had yielded remarkable results over the past 17 years. More than 85 percent of the nation's counties have benefited from the program, with 70 million farmers receiving new farming skills.

In Xinzheng, Central China's Henan Province, a total of nine towns and four villages have developed Chinese dates, lotus and vegetable producing centers.

The per capita net income of farmers in Xinzheng last year averaged 3,357 yuan (US$404), marking a 6.9 percent increase on the previous year.

(China Daily April 8, 2003)

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