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Farmers struggle in face of price freezes
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While most Chinese consumers, particularly in urban areas, are relieved at the government's decision to freeze prices on key household commodities, some of the country's farmers are arguing their interests might be ignored.

The government on Wednesday moved to restrict price hikes of daily goods, such as grain, edible oil, meat, milk, eggs and liquefied petroleum gas, in an effort to bring rising inflation under control.

Xu Shaohua, a rice farmer from the Dongting Lake area, a key grain production base in central China's Hunan Province, hopes that additional measures should be taken to satisfy people who live in the countryside.

"Prices of pesticides and chemical fertilizers have continued to soar, but the price of rice has not undergone big hikes in recent years," Xu complained.

"Rice in 2007 only fetched 80 yuan or so per 50 kg on the market, I don't have much left after labor costs are deducted," he said.

"It is simply unrealistic to rely on ploughing the fields and becoming prosperous."

Like many other rural families, Xu Shaohua and his wife, take care of their grandson, who helps farm their land. Their son and daughter-in-law have left to work in the city.

When the workload on the farm increases, the elderly couple have to hire several hands to help them out. But the cost of hiring a laborer has gone up from 20 yuan a day three years ago to 60 yuan, while the price for a bag of urea is now 104 yuan from 74 yuan in 2006.

The rich-poor gap is enlarging between cities and villages in the country with 900 million farmers, or 3/4 of the total population.

Chen Wensheng, deputy head of the New Countryside Research Center with Hunan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, believes the government should leave the price of goods to market forces.

"Rises in farm produce reflect the law of the market, which will in turn help compensate farmers," said Chen Wensheng, deputy head of the New Countryside Research Center with the Hunan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

"Without question, it is a key challenge for the Chinese government to balance inflation curbs and steady price increases of produce for the good of farmers," said Chen.

Some experts hope the farmers' worries would be eased as the government move to adopt more methods to overcome the difficulties.

"The Chinese government will strive to bring the price hikes under control ... by expanding (farm) production for steady supply," said Gao Hongbin, vice minister of agriculture, at a recent press conference.

The central government has pledged to enhance rural infrastructure construction, promote stable development of agriculture and facilitate a sustained income growth for farmers in 2008.

The pledge should be carried out and a certain period of time thereafter in accordance with the requirement of realizing integration of urban and rural economic and social development, according to a rural work conference.

Efforts should be exerted to ensure supply of major agricultural products, settle problems concerning people's livelihood in rural areas and push forward the "new countryside" scheme.

Polices benefiting farmers should be improved and investment in agriculture and rural areas should be increased substantially.

Basic supply of major agricultural products should be guaranteed, and farmers' income should be increased, according to the meeting.

(Xinhua News Agency January 19, 2008)

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