Officials at forum vow to maintain supportive policies for countryside A national agricultural conference says it is time for the mainland's urban areas to give more support to rural development, while reducing the tax burden on peasants. A statement issued at the end of the two-day conference in Beijing on Wednesday said sectors such as manufacturing, mining and heavy industries should give the farming sector greater support. 'China will make necessary policy adjustments to incorporate rural areas into the comprehensive national development plan and ... to include the enhancement of farmers' income levels in the nation's common wealth goal,' Xinhua quoted the statement as saying. Officials at the meeting also pledged to maintain supportive policies, including the gradual elimination of the agricultural tax, more subsidies for farmers, increased investment in rural infrastructure and more financial assistance to key grain-production areas. 'Next year the central government's support for the agricultural sector won't be reduced and the preferential polices towards farmers must not be rolled back,' Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin was quoted by Xinhua as saying at the meeting. For decades, the mainland has pursued a development strategy focused on secondary industries, while discriminating against the rural sector. Rural residents not only paid much higher taxes on average than their urban counterparts, but enjoyed fewer public benefits. On the other hand, employees of state-owned businesses in cities were entitled to cradle-to-grave socialist welfare benefits until recently, when the government began to carry out market-oriented reforms. 'It's about the time to repay agriculture and pursue harmonious development of rural and urban areas,' Mr Du said. 'Agriculture needs more support as it's the weak link in our national economy.' Analysts said the central government was forced to amend its policies after witnessing a spate of violent protests in rural areas as peasants revolted against heavy taxes and unfair treatment. 'Despite a series of efforts such as land acquisition compensation and tax cuts, rural living standards have improved little in real terms,' said Hu Xingdou , a social scientist from the Beijing Institute of Technology. Disposable incomes in urban areas are growing twice as fast as those in the countryside, and the growing polarisation between affluent urban dwellers and their impoverished rural counterparts had resulted in an alarming number of protests and riots, he said. 'Governments at local levels are a real scourge for farmers,' Professor Hu said. 'The only way to alleviate the situation of farmers is to trim local bureaucracies.' Only about 10 per cent of farmers' financial burden stemmed from taxes levied by the central government, he said. The elimination of agricultural taxes was forcing local governments to find other sources of revenue and Professor Hu said the central government needed to hammer out a financial assistance deal with local governments.