AFTER a few years of experimenting with stocks, futures and other highly sophisticated tools of capitalism, Beijing has decided it is time to get back to the basics. The government has decreed that grain production is to be the new benchmark for economic policy making. It should be stressed from the outset that this does not represent a return to the bad old days of the Cultural Revolution when, ''taking grain as the key link'', the government ordered farmers to grow wheat and barley in the most unsuitable places imaginable. Rather, the government has taken the pragmatic and increasingly necessary step of ordering that grain production will have to be guaranteed before local authorities can go ahead with industrial development and capital construction. The increasing amount of land being taken out of grain production and turned over to industrial and commercial use has been a major headache for the central government since the mid-1980s. The problem reached a crisis point, however, a couple years ago when more and more local authorities started deliberately diverting funds assigned for agricultural development into industrial and property developments. With all their money invested in capital construction, the local authorities did not have any cash left to pay the farmers for their contracted produce and started issuing IOUs instead, much to the annoyance of the farmers. But many local governments did not stop there. Inspired by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's call to ''go faster'', government officials launched project after project in a bid to outdo their neighbours. And when they discovered they did not have enough money for a new factory or office building, they simply imposed a levy on the farmers. Thus China's farmers suffered from both having no income from the government and increased taxes. Reports of growing discontent in the countryside late last year forced the government to act, with the 14th Party Congress in October putting agricultural development firmly back on top of the political agenda. However, it took a while for this renewed commitment of the party's central committee to agricultural to filter down to the provinces.