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Home >> Business
UPDATED: 07:47, December 27, 2006
China's rural life still harsh
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China's annual central rural work meeting held last week in Beijing pledged to build a national subsistence allowances system to cover all needy people in the countryside.

Rural residents' per-capita basic income is only one third of the per-capita disposable income of urbanites. Approximately 23.65 million rural people live in poverty in China -- their annual per-capita income is no more than 683 yuan.

The meeting stressed that rural and agricultural problems will continue to be top priorities of the ruling Communist Party of China. Efforts will be made to boost both grain production and farmers' income.

The good words may bring a glimmer of hope to the life of Jin Zhengzhi, who lives in a mountainous area thousands of miles from the nation's capital. "HAVE ENOUGH FOOD TO EAT"

Jin, 45 years of age, used to work as a housemaid in a city outside her native Anhui province, and her 49-year-old husband Wu Chuanlin worked in a city brick mill. They were two of China's 140 million migrant workers.

Peasant farmers have always been part of China. Grain security has always been a top concern in a country which now has a population of 1.3 billion including 900 million rural people.

To encourage peasant farmers, on Jan. 1, 2006 China scrapped the agricultural tax that had been levied for 2,600 years. The move slashed peasant farmers' tax burden by more than 120 billion yuan (15 billion U.S. dollars).

Other stimulants included subsidies for growing grain and for purchasing improved strains, farm vehicles and raw materials, such as pesticides and fertilizers. Meanwhile, a minimum grain price was established to safeguard farmers' interests.

Encouraged, Jin and her husband decided to return to Saozhou village in Dabie Mountain in Anhui to farm. Their annual burden had been reduced by 120 yuan (15 U.S. dollars) and they also received subsidies of 20 yuan (2.6 U.S. dollars) per mu (15 mu equals one hectare) for their farm land.

A total of 339.7 billion yuan (43.5 billion U.S. dollars) went from central coffers to rural areas this year, an increment of 42.2 billion yuan (5.4 billion U.S. dollars) on last year.

But bad luck soon struck -- and with a vengeance. A typhoon ravaged for Jin and Wu's village in July this year, damaging roads, bridges and crops and causing two million yuan (256,410 U.S. dollars) of economic losses.

Three quarters of the Jin family's four mu of land was submerged -- only one mu of paddy rice was harvested.

"With this year's 250 kilograms of rice plus some leftovers from last year, we have just enough to eat," Jin said, glancing round her home, equipped with only a small TV set bought on credit last year and several worn-out, outmoded cupboards of indeterminate color. She said the furniture was what she took with her when she married Wu more than two decades ago. She did not believe they would buy anything new in the next few years.

Nationally, the situation is much better than Jin's predicament would suggest. Despite frequent national disasters, China's grain production will exceed 490 billion kilograms this year, up for the third consecutive year, said Shang Qiangmin, head of the State Cereals and Oil Information Center.

The central rural work conference promised that the government would spend more money on supporting farming and rural undertakings next year. Grain growing subsidies will continue as well as subsidies to purchase improved strains, farm vehicles and raw materials.

However, "we should realize that the basis for grain production is fragile," warned Premier Wen Jiabao.

"Construction projects are gobbling up 266,667 hectares of farm land every year. There is less and less opportunity to increase grain growing areas." "We must use legal means to control land use, and effectively safeguard farmers' rights and land interests," Wen said.

China has 122 million hectares of farm land left. According to an estimate by Han Jun, head of the rural department of the Development Research Center under the State Council, more than 47 million peasant farmers have lost land in recent years.

"HAVE ENOUGH FOOD TO EAT"

Jin, 45 years of age, used to work as a housemaid in a city outside her native Anhui province, and her 49-year-old husband Wu Chuanlin worked in a city brick mill. They were two of China's 140 million migrant workers.

Peasant farmers have always been part of China. Grain security has always been a top concern in a country which now has a population of 1.3 billion including 900 million rural people.

To encourage peasant farmers, on Jan. 1, 2006 China scrapped the agricultural tax that had been levied for 2,600 years. The move slashed peasant farmers' tax burden by more than 120 billion yuan (15 billion U.S. dollars).

Other stimulants included subsidies for growing grain and for purchasing improved strains, farm vehicles and raw materials, such as pesticides and fertilizers. Meanwhile, a minimum grain price was established to safeguard farmers' interests.

Encouraged, Jin and her husband decided to return to Saozhou village in Dabie Mountain in Anhui to farm. Their annual burden had been reduced by 120 yuan (15 U.S. dollars) and they also received subsidies of 20 yuan (2.6 U.S. dollars) per mu (15 mu equals one hectare) for their farm land.

A total of 339.7 billion yuan (43.5 billion U.S. dollars) went from central coffers to rural areas this year, an increment of 42.2 billion yuan (5.4 billion U.S. dollars) on last year.

But bad luck soon struck -- and with a vengeance. A typhoon ravaged for Jin and Wu's village in July this year, damaging roads, bridges and crops and causing two million yuan (256,410 U.S. dollars) of economic losses.

Three quarters of the Jin family's four mu of land was submerged -- only one mu of paddy rice was harvested.

"With this year's 250 kilograms of rice plus some leftovers from last year, we have just enough to eat," Jin said, glancing round her home, equipped with only a small TV set bought on credit last year and several worn-out, outmoded cupboards of indeterminate color. She said the furniture was what she took with her when she married Wu more than two decades ago. She did not believe they would buy anything new in the next few years.

Nationally, the situation is much better than Jin's predicament would suggest. Despite frequent national disasters, China's grain production will exceed 490 billion kilograms this year, up for the third consecutive year, said Shang Qiangmin, head of the State Cereals and Oil Information Center.

The central rural work conference promised that the government would spend more money on supporting farming and rural undertakings next year. Grain growing subsidies will continue as well as subsidies to purchase improved strains, farm vehicles and raw materials.

However, "we should realize that the basis for grain production is fragile," warned Premier Wen Jiabao.

"Construction projects are gobbling up 266,667 hectares of farm land every year. There is less and less opportunity to increase grain growing areas." "We must use legal means to control land use, and effectively safeguard farmers' rights and land interests," Wen said.

China has 122 million hectares of farm land left. According to an estimate by Han Jun, head of the rural department of the Development Research Center under the State Council, more than 47 million peasant farmers have lost land in recent years. "NOTHING TO DO BUT WAIT FOR DEATH"

Jin Zhengzhi said that over the past two years, she and her husband managed to save about 10,000 yuan (1,282 U.S. dollars) out of their earnings. They supported her mother-in-law, who was in her 80s, and spent 200-300 yuan (25.6-38.5 U.S. dollars) each month so that their 20-year-old son could learn house decoration skills in the county capital.

But in May Jin's husband was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. Since they had not joined the new cooperative health care system for rural areas, which is jointly funded by government and individuals, they had to bear the cost of medical care themselves.

Six months later, Jin had spent all their savings and owed another 10,000 yuan (1,282 U.S. dollars).

Unable to afford hospitalization, Jin's husband went home with a little medicine.

Jin said, "It costs too much for us to see a doctor. The other day, it cost more than 700 yuan (89.7 U.S. dollars) for us to get a physical examination and buy some drugs at the county hospital," she complained.

Without treatment, Wu Chuanlin's physical condition declined rapidly until he could no longer work. Jin quit her job as a housemaid and went home to take care of him.

"With no income, we have nothing to do but wait for death," sighed Jin.

Of the 960 households in Saozhou Village, families thrown into poverty by disease or by the burden of paying for children's education represent 20 percent.

Besides the subsistence allowance system for the rural needy, Finance Minister Jin Renqing said recently that the new cooperative health care system, which is being tested in about half the country's rural areas, will be expanded to cover 80 percent of the rural population next year. In 2008 all rural people will be brought under the umbrella of the system.

Jin Renqing said the government's per-person input for the system will be increased, from 10 yuan (1.3 U.S. dollars) to 20 yuan (2.6 U.S. dollars).

He added that after experiments in some western provinces, free education will be provided for all 150 million rural children eligible for nine-year compulsory education.

"NEW COUNTRYSIDE" SCHEME: NOT AN EASY JOB

Saozhou Village began the "new countryside" scheme in 2006 focused on building roads and bridges.

The village's abundant bamboo resources can be used as building materials, in paper making and to produce bamboo ware, but the village needs to ship the bamboo and bamboo products out before they can benefit from the resources.

"Easy access to the outside world is indispensable for people in mountainous areas," said village officials.

Road construction demands both a physical and a financial contribution from villagers. Every household has to pay more than 100 yuan (12.8 U.S. dollars) for the purpose.

"We know we cannot rely on the state for everything. But we just don't have the wherewithal to build a 'new countryside'," said one of Jin Zhengzhi's fellow villagers.

"Building a new countryside" was listed as the number one item on China's economic agenda for this year.

According to Premier Wen Jiabao, the "new countryside" is one where farming production grows, and farmers enjoy a good living in villages with democratic management, a clean natural environment and healthy morals.

Under the scheme, the central government has earmarked four billion yuan (513 million U.S. dollars) this year to provide safe drinking water to 20 million rural people.

Another 17.5 billion yuan (2.2 billion U.S. dollars) was set aside to support road construction projects in rural areas.

The "new countryside" scheme is included in China's Five-Year Program for 2006-2010.

He Kaiyin, a rural problem expert in Anhui Province, said that thanks to a series of stimulants, China's rural areas had seen fast economic and social development in the last few years. But solving rural problems is a long-term, arduous task which will remain sown obstinately into the national agenda for many a season to come.

Source: Xinhua


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