Organisations representing 84 state farms that are home to 590,000 overseas Chinese have appealed for a doubling of their annual subsidy to 100 million yuan (about HK$93.7 million) to pay pensions and ease their worsening financial plight, according to an official. The official, from the domestic affairs division of the Overseas Chinese Bureau of the State Council, said five government departments had applied to the Finance Ministry for help. 'We are waiting for a reply,' he said. The farms, in seven provinces and regions, were set up to settle about 400,000 ethnic Chinese who arrived from Malaya in the 1950s, Indonesia in the 1960s and Vietnam in 1978, fleeing persecution and discrimination. The settlers were given empty land, mostly in poor and inaccessible regions where no one wanted to live, and the farms were organised like state factories, with their own schools, hospitals, courts and police stations. The residents were classified neither as urban people nor as farmers but 'state employees in rural areas', and the farms had the same chronic problems as state-owned factories - too many managers, a heavy burden of retired people, poor management and disregard for the market. In addition, during the 1990s, prices for their main goods - grain, fruit, tea and sugar - were low, while production costs have risen, worsening their financial plight. Since they are administratively independent, they have to pay the cost of natural disasters, amounting to 300-400 million yuan at the end of 1999 for farms in Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan. As a result, by 1998, 88 per cent of the farms were losing money, with losses totalling 200 million yuan. The average annual income was 2,095 yuan, with 67,900 earning less than 1,000 yuan a year, 200,000 having no running water and some no electricity. Their average income is barely above the national average farm income last year of 1,640 yuan. The bill for pensions on the state farms increased from 160.5 million yuan in 1995 to 257.9 million in 1999, and one farm has paid no pensions for 40 months. Since 1978 the central government has been urging the farms to follow reforms carried out in the rest of rural China, such as dividing up the land among individual families on long-term leases, but they have resisted change, preferring to remain as employees of the state. An estimated 100,000 people have left the state farms to seek employment elsewhere. Of the farms, 23 are in Guangdong, 22 in Guangxi, 17 in Fujian, 13 in Yunnan, five in Hainan, three in Jiangxi and one in Jilin.