Food and agriculture

China vows to modernise massive farm sector, amid growing wealth gap with cities

Hundreds of millions work in nation’s agricultural industry, but incomes in the countryside lag far behind the nation’s increasingly affluent urban areas

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 10:13am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 9:48pm

China wants to modernise its farm sector by 2035 as part of a plan to boost rural incomes and living standards, according to a government policy statement that comes amid growing concern about a widening wealth gap and slowing economy.

The statement called for significant progress in rural rejuvenation by 2020, agricultural modernisation by 2035 and a “strong agriculture sector and full realisation of farmers’ wealth” by 2050.

“Without the modernisation of agriculture there is no national modernisation,” said the government’s first policy statement of the year.

China has the largest agriculture sector in the world and hundreds of millions of people work as farmers but productivity is low.

The statement published by Xinhua late on Sunday is called the Number One document and sets out Beijing’s priorities for the year.

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China has already taken steps to modernise its sprawling farm sector in recent years in a bid to make it more efficient and better able to supply changing tastes in a wealthier, urban population.

It has been overhauling support for grain production, abandoning state stockpiling schemes and cutting support prices for major crops, such as wheat and rice, after years of bumper harvests saddled the government with overflowing reserves.

It is also trying to shift the focus to quality rather than quantity by promoting varieties in higher demand, such as high-gluten wheat, or corn used to make silage for dairy cows.

Those efforts will continue, said the document, which also called for upgrading of farm machinery, accelerating the development of modern crops and the development of digital agriculture.

It also reiterated recent efforts to better protect water and soil, strengthen management of resources and said China would deepen land reforms, allowing for more transfer of land.

The environment minister Li Ganjie said over the weekend that China would try to make about 90 per cent of its contaminated farmland safe for crops by the end of 2020, and would also restrict development on a quarter of the country’s territory.

Li said China would conduct a detailed investigation into soil pollution and launch pilot zones that would be used to test soil pollution prevention and treatment technologies, according to an account of a weekend meeting published by the Ministry of Environmental Protection on its official website.

A 2013 survey showed about 3.33 million hectares (eight million acres) of China’s farmland – an area the size of Belgium – was deemed too polluted to grow crops, with estimated clean-up costs amounting to 1 trillion yuan (US$159 billion).

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Li said China would also aim to cut the amount of “below grade V” water – water unfit even for industrial use or irrigation – to less than 5 per cent by the end of 2020. The figure stood at 8.8 per cent in the first half of 2017.

Meanwhile, the new rural policy statement said the government was trying to improve financing in rural areas to support modernisation. It said Beijing would guarantee “strategic financial input” into the revitalisation, with public finance prioritising rural areas.

It also wants to improve China’s agricultural trade policy system and support large grain importers and agribusinesses, it continued.