By He Shan
China.org.cn staff reporter
The financial crisis, climate change, environmental degradation, and an inadequate health care system are just some of the challenges facing China's farmers this year as they struggle to maintain their living standards.
Average rural incomes rose 8 percent to 4,700 yuan in 2008, but more than 40 percent of that income came from salaries of family members working in east coast factories that laid off millions as export orders collapsed at the end of last year.
This year, finding a job in the city will be difficult. For many, life back in the countryside has cut short their dreams of pulling themselves out of poverty.
Premier Wen Jiabao's report to the National People's Congress on March 5 said the government plans to raise the purchasing price for wheat and rice by 13 percent this year.
"But the effect of this measure will be modest. Prices of agricultural products have fallen across the board since the second half of last year, dragging farmers' incomes lower," said Liu Yonghao, chairman of Sichuan New Hope Group, the largest livestock producer in China.
Agriculture will have to modernize radically if farmers are to cope with climate change, deterioration of the environment, and declining job opportunities in cities, he said in an interview with China.org.cn.
"If farmers' incomes stagnate, the government's plan to tap the rural market to stimulate domestic demand won't work," said Wu Huitian, chairman of Wanlida Group, a consumer electronics producer.
Even worse, the poorest farmers in China are falling victim to the global crisis, Vice Minister of Agriculture Fan Xiaojian, told Xinhua.
"The poverty relief process has slowed down and poverty has returned to many areas, piling pressure on the government," said Fan, who is in charge of China's poverty relief work.
Premier Wen said in his report that China will extend its poverty relief measures to 40.07 million people in poor areas this year.
"The government needs to put in place a well-rounded insurance plan for farmers to encourage them to spend and consume," said Wu Huitian.
There has been a chorus of complaints from farmers that the coverage provided by the current countryside cooperative healthcare system is inadequate.
(China.org.cn March 11, 2009)