Family farms seen as way forward for food security

Large-scale operations that do not need to rely on hiring outside help are seen as essential to ensure sustainable agricultural production

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 March, 2013, 4:43am

The definition of "family farm" has become a controversial topic on the mainland after the central leadership promised preferential policies for them in its first policy directive this year but failed to say exactly who would qualify.

A family farm was one whose production and management relied solely on family members, without hiring extra hands, a top rural policymaker said yesterday on the sidelines of the annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Chen Xiwen , director of the Communist Party's Central Rural Work Leading Group, said China should encourage the development of "moderately large-scale" farms owned and operated by individual families to ensure sustainable agricultural production.

In eastern coastal areas, they could be between 3.3 hectares and 6.6 hectares, he said, but the standard could be flexible and should take the geography of different areas into account.

"You might find it hard to rent only one to two hectares of land in Guizhou [a mountainous province] but on the northeastern plain, several dozen hectares is possible," he said.

Mainland agriculture is dominated by small family operations, and Chen said larger scale family operations, rather than business-dominated production, should be the way of the future.

He doubted the sustainability of agriculture driven by commercial investment and based on the labour of employees.

"Only when people are farming on their own land and harvesting their own crops can they devote themselves whole-heartedly," Chen said.

Non-agricultural businesses have shown unprecedented enthusiasm in investing in agriculture in recent years as the central government increased support for the sector in a bid to guarantee food security for the mainland's 1.35 billion people.

Fearing more arable land may be used for non-agricultural development, the first policy document this year said the government would not encourage businesses to rent large areas of farmland over a long period.

Chen said the government had come up with the notion of "family farms" against the backdrop of the exodus of young rural labourers to urban areas.

As the rural population decreases, the area of farmland worked by individual rural households was getting bigger, he said. "So the size of family farms should be linked to the population in the countryside," Chen said.

By the end of last year, 52.6 per cent of the mainland's population lived in urban areas.

Chen estimated that by 2030, the mainland's population would reach 1.5 billion, with 30 per cent - 450 million people - in rural areas.

Xinhua quoted an official from the Ministry of Agriculture as saying that it encouraged local governments to take the lead in formulating their own standards for family farms and introducing preferential policies in terms of land rent, financing, insurance, tax and so on.

It said there were more than 6,600 family farms in the 33 areas designated by the ministry for experiments on the trading of farmland among farmers.