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UPDATED: 14:30, June 25, 2004
Farmers reclaim "wasteland" as grain price soars
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Lured by a grain price hike, Chinese farmers like Li Xihua are returning to farmlands from their work in cities.

Recent governmental policies, including agricultural tax exemption or reduction, are also enticements for them.

"During the past few years, farmers in our village could barelyearn money from growing crops. But it is foolish to still think soand have the farmland deserted this year as the rice price has grown more than 10 percent," said Li, a farmer of Qianfeng Villageof southwestern Sichuan Province, who just returned to his hometown several days ago from Guangzhou, capital of south China'sGuangdong Province.

Due to decrease in the output of staple agricultural products, such as grain, cotton and oil-bearing crops and steady increase ofmarket demand, production prices of products of plant culture sector grew a record 15 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarterof 2003, a rate that is much higher than in the first three quarters, according to a survey of production prices of 2,700 agricultural production units by the National Bureau of Statistics.

This sagacious 31-year-old man had a bill in his mind -- he is able to gain 50 yuan (6 US dollars) more than before from per mu (a Chinese unit of area equal to 1/15 of a hectare) of his farmlandwith a government subsidy for farming and a grain price hike as well as agricultural tax reduction.

Li's family has 4.5 mu (0.3 hectare) farmland, with an output of 500 kg rice per mu, which could only be sold for no more than 400 yuan (48 US dollars) in the past few years.

"Taking out of the investment on seed, fertilizer and pesticideas well as agricultural tax, my family could hardly make profits and even sometimes, we lost the money for investment," said Li, who added he could earn 2,000 to 5000 yuan (241 to 602 US dollars)in Guangzhou.

Similar experience as Li's drive many farmers in China to give up working on the land, which is regarded as their basic instrument to make a living, and to turn to the cities.

As a result, a large quantity of arable land lay idle in the country, which was threatened by a cereal output decrease for consecutive years due to reduction of sowing area.

"The situation is especially worrying in the major grain producing areas, like Sichuan. By the end of 2003, the 'waste farmland' in Sichuan had reached 100,000 hectares, accounting for four to five percent of the province's total arable land," said Mou Jinyi, head of the grain and oil office of the provincial Agricultural Department.

Yuan Longping, one of the prestigious Chinese agronomists famedfor his success in breeding hybrid rice and a member of the CPPCC National Committee, set China's alert line at the annual grain output of 485 million tons, but the figure reached merely 430 million tons last year.

To curb the situation, the Chinese government has launched a series of policies to encourage farmers to reclaim wasteland and increase their income.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last month announced the decision, in his work report at the second session of the 10th National People's Congress, to rescind agricultural tax in five years, which means farmers' burden would be reduced by as much as 11.8 billion yuan in each of the five years.

In addition, the government will give subsidies directly to grain producers in the major grain producing areas instead of subsidizing them indirectly through grain distribution links. Ten billion yuan from the grain risk fund will be given directly to grain producers in 13 major grain producing provinces in 2004, according to the report.

Sichuan is included in the provinces where farmers can enjoy direct government subsidies of 10.06 yuan (1.21 US dollars) per mu,and its agricultural tax rate was also reduced to four percent from seven percent with 10 other provinces, like Hunan, Jiangxi and Jiangsu.

With the agricultural tax reform, Li can enjoy a total subsidy of 45.27 yuan (5.45 US dollars) as well as a tax reduction of 90 yuan (10.84 US dollars).

"I will go back to Guangzhou after the spring plowing. But thisyear, my family doesn't have to buy grain at the market as the yield of our own land is enough," said Li.

Statistics from the land and resources bureau of the Emeishan City, where Li's village is located, show all the 67 hectares of wasteland in the city have already been replanted with grain and in some areas, the supply of wasteland fell short of demand.

In addition, land rent also rose as a large number of farmers returned to their farmland.

Yang Yuanfu, a major grain producer from Gaogongqiao Village ofGuanghan City in Sichuan, rented 30 mu of cropland last year at a price of 400 yuan (48 US dollars) per mu.

"The price is impossible this year, and I even offered 450 yuan(54 US dollars) for per mu. The grain price hike makes many farmers change the idea and they have begun to culture the land themselves," said Yang.

"It is a good sign that wasteland has become hard-to-get -- it shows that the enthusiasm of Chinese farmers to grow grain has been ignited again," said Guo Xiaoming, head of the rural economy institute of the Sichuan Provincial Academy of Agricultural Science.

"Every farmer and their land are the 'cells' of the 'body' of the country's agriculture. Only when the cells remain healthy, thewhole body can be energetic," said Guo.

Source: Xinhua

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