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Extreme weather takes toll on farmers
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With snowstorms wreaking havoc on the country's central and southern regions and drought drying up farmland in the north, the agriculture industry faces grave challenges this year.

More than 11 million hectares of arable land, or 9 percent of the country's total, is drought-affected and 2.43 million people and 1.89 million livestock are short of drinking water due to the drought, the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said yesterday.

Most areas in the country's north have seen significantly lower rainfall this winter - 20 to 70 percent less than the average annual rainfall in decades, Zhang Zhitong, a researcher at the headquarters, said.

Local governments have been urged to raise awareness to ensure drinking water safety and irrigation water supply for farming in the spring.

Meanwhile, agricultural departments in the south face the tough task of the post-snowstorm recovery.

The central government called for local agricultural departments to take effective measures to reduce the negative impact of the disaster and implement preferential policies for farmers, including subsidies.

Minister of Agriculture Sun Zhengcai urged local governments on Saturday to do all they could to help with reconstruction work.

"We should assist particularly the production of vegetables, rape plants, pigs and chickens," Sun said.

An information center opened earlier this month in Beihai, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, to help farmers resolve technical problems, gain access to real-time market information and get training.

The center was set up with backing from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Ministry of Science and Technology of China.

Liao Wenjiao, 33, a farmer in Beihai's Xiaomatou village, said she can now ask experts farming questions via an online video chat system set up in the village activity room recently.

"I've learnt from the experts to cover plant roots with organic compost and to spray a potassium solution on the leaves to stop them from freezing, which is very helpful," Liao said.

Her family owns 2 hectares of red pepper crops, which usually bring 300,000 yuan ($41,000) a year.

"The red peppers are growing very slowly this year because of the freezing weather, but I think this support will help ensure steady output this year," Liao said.

Hepu is one of 30 trial counties that have benefited from the UNDP's Technical Task Force project launched in 2006 to improve scientific know-how for poverty alleviate and sustainable development in rural China.

"The project, with an investment of $7.4 million, is very timely and it dovetails with China's process of building a new socialist countryside through promoting knowledge-based innovation in rural areas," Subinay Nandy, director of UNDP China, said.

"We hope that poor farmers can benefit from this unique partnership opportunity between the government and UNDP by reducing the technology and digital gaps, and thus the income gap," he said.

(China Daily February 25, 2008)

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