More than 20 million villagers will be retrained over the next three years in an effort to ease the problem of rural unemployment. The programme would train young people, migrant workers, and the staff of village-run enterprises to work as locksmiths, electricians, welders, bricklayers and farmers, said the director of the new programme at the Ministry of Science and Technology. Falling agricultural prices and rising taxes are driving about eight million farmers to seek urban jobs every year. The exodus has put pressure on cities already burdened by massive layoffs from state-owned and private firms. Official figures put the rural labour force at about 490 million, or 70 per cent of the total labour force. But the rural economy can only support 180 million workers, leaving the government to retrain and employ 310 million people. 'The vast majority of China's rural labour force has no skills or education,' said Cai Fang, director of the population department of the Chinese Academy of Social Science. 'Retraining just 20 million of them will not solve the problems associated with rural depopulation and unemployment.' The Ministry of Science and Technology has allotted 50 million yuan (HK$47 million) for the programme, which will be jointly administered with the agriculture and labour ministries.