Growth for farmers minimal, report says The income gap on the mainland will continue to widen despite efforts over the past two years to boost farmers' incomes, according to a report released yesterday by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a central government think-tank. The academy's 2008 Blue Book on Social Development said the average disposable income of urban residents, taking inflation into account, jumped by 13.2 per cent year-on-year in the first three quarters of last year to 10,346 yuan, compared with farmers' average cash income of 3,321 yuan in the same period. The co-editor of the report, Chen Guangjin, from the National Development and Reform Commission, said both rural and urban incomes rose last year. But the growth for farmers continued to lag behind that for city dwellers and, as a result, 'the income gap will continue to widen, though at a slower pace'. The report predicted that, for the full calendar year, farmers' average net incomes would have grown by about 8 per cent in 2007 - the highest growth rate in years - thanks in part to raging inflation, which is at its highest level in a decade. The mainland's consumer price index surged 4.1 per cent year on year in the first nine months of last year, as food prices soared by 10 per cent. Prices for staples, including cooking oil and pork, rose by 30 per cent to 70 per cent last year, compounding the hardship for many low-income families. Li Peilin, from the academy, said a flurry of policies on compulsory education, medical care and tax breaks aimed at helping the rural population had boosted morale among farmers. But satisfaction among urban residents declined last year due to rising prices, he noted. At least three people were killed in a stampede in November as hundreds of shoppers scrambled to buy cooking oil during a promotion at a supermarket in Chengdu, Sichuan, rattling authorities concerned about social unrest stemming from rising food prices. 'Reining in food prices to keep them stable is the foundation of social stability,' Professor Li said. The report also pointed out a sharp increase in housing prices on the mainland last year, with cities including Beijing and Shenzhen recording double-digit growth that undermined consumer confidence. Professor Li said many families would like to own their own homes, but rising housing prices spurred anxiety about a further upsurge in the cost of property, suppressing desire to spend on other items. The rate of consumption as a proportion of gross domestic product touched 36 per cent last year, the lowest in decades, the report added. The figure is unlikely to sit well with officials who have been trying to boost consumption for years.