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Farmers Have Their Say on Countryside Construction
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A new book has offered a fresh perspective on the building of a harmonious socialist countryside by seeking out the opinions of those that matter most: The farmers themselves.

While so far most discussions have focused on government policies and the opinions of academics, the research team behind the book, Construction of a New Countryside: Farmers' Perspectives, surveyed approximately 500 farmers in four provinces.

"Farmers are disadvantaged in mass communication. They can't get their voices heard on something that they are in fact leading," Song Yuehua, chief editor of publisher Social Science Academic Press, said on Tuesday at the launch.

The research found nine areas of concern among farmers, although researchers stressed the range of local viewpoints.

"Opinions on the new socialist countryside are just so diverse among people of different gender, age, education and region. Therefore, authorities should avoid applying the same stereotypes to all villages," said Ye Jingzhong, initiator of the book and also vice-dean of the Humanities and Development School of China Agriculture University.

One popular complaint was that while the central government is investing heavily in the project, farmers are not seeing much of these funds as they are being used up at county or township level.

Farmers said they experienced problems in getting loans for agricultural products. More than 66 per cent said they could not make sufficient investment in their land despite willingness to develop it.

The system of model villages was criticised, as selection and building of model villages is generally based on villages that are already well off.

"Their development experience cannot be copied by other villages. Also, input focused on model villages may lead to further imbalance of resources," the research group quoted surveyed farmers as saying.

Another finding was over misleading media reports that cause farmers to lack a clear picture of what a new countryside will mean: 30 per cent thought the project could be achieved in 5 years, while in fact it is long-term plan.

Also, a large proportion of surveyed farmers said that instead of a pleasant village environment as proposed by the central government, what they now need most is improvement in hygiene facilities and waste management.

Noting that 88 million women, children and elderly in the countryside lack necessary care, the research team called for more effective measures to ensure their safety, welfare and education.

According to Song, the new findings will help scholars and decision-makers modify their policies to better serve farmers.

Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice- Premier Hui Liangyu, who is in charge of agriculture issues, have taken note of the research findings.

In a letter of response quoted by Ye, the two said "the research touches upon noteworthy issues, and will ensure related bureaus better understand and enforce the countryside policy."

The country kicked off a massive campaign to build a harmonious socialist countryside this year, calling for developed production, relative affluence, a hygienic and pleasant social environment and democratic administration.

The central government has allocated 339.7 billion yuan (US$42.5 billion) this year from the central treasury to agriculture, the countryside and farmers. This will pay for the abolition of agricultural taxes and additional charges and fees, input into infrastructure construction and a medical welfare system.

(China Daily November 23, 2006)

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