New funds for rural subsidies and cash bonuses for crops will also be given to ease grievances Government ministers promised yesterday to spend more on rural issues and step up protection of farmers' land rights to address a rising tide of grievances. New spending will take the form of direct subsidies to farmers, cash bonuses for grain-producing counties and investment in infrastructure facilities such as irrigation systems and roads. Speaking on the sidelines of the NPC meeting, Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin promised that the government would stop the further dwindling of 'basic farmland'. Basic farmland comprises plots of land assigned to individual farmers for farming purposes only. Although government regulations forbid the trading of basic farmland, the practice has become rampant in recent years, sparking protests by farmers who claim that collusion between developers and local cadres has been robbing them of their livelihood. Mr Du admitted that some local cadres did not follow the central government's policies on land use and said many disputes between farmers and local governments remained unresolved. He said the government would step up monitoring of land-use conversions this year. 'We will try to achieve the goal that the size of basic farmland remains the same [as last year], their usage not being changed and their quality not deteriorating.' Meanwhile, Vice-Finance Minister Zhu Zhigang said he was hopeful the government would be able to increase direct subsidies to grain farmers by 10 per cent this year, after the country reported a rise in grain output last year, its first in four years. Last year, the government provided 11.6 billion yuan in direct subsidies to more than 600 million grain farmers in 29 provinces. The subsidies were described by analysts as one of the incentives behind the increased output. Mr Zhu said the policy would continue and might be fine-tuned in terms of the frequency of providing the subsidies to reduce administrative costs. This year, the government has set aside 5.5 billion yuan as cash bonuses for 800 key grain-producing counties. The money can be used on education, health, culture and public services. Mr Zhu said the government would review grain production in these counties, and those that continued to do well would be eligible for future cash bonuses. The 800 counties are now responsible for 60 per cent of the mainland's grain output. In addition, Mr Zhu said the government would set aside 16 billion yuan raised from the issuance of treasury bonds to build small infrastructure and irrigation projects for farmers this year. Jiang Weixin , a deputy-director of the National Development and Reform Commission, said more than 12 billion yuan from the central government's budget and bond issues would be allocated for agriculture, forestry and water resources this year. Although the government was eager to increase grain output, Mr Du said weather still played a big part. The mainland lost 30 million tonnes of grain last year due to bad weather, compared to the annual average of 50 million tonnes from 1998 to 2003.