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Farmers come first in 2009
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08:28, February 02, 2009

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China will plough ahead with tough measures to develop rural areas and agriculture in 2009 despite expectations that this year will witness the hardest challenges of the last decade, the central government said yesterday.

A global resource market slump, increasing public concern about food safety and a fast-diminishing labor pool for rural migrant workers are among the most critical issues facing the Chinese countryside, according to the document, which was discussed at an annual central work conference in December and released yesterday.

As the first policy document of the year, it was issued jointly by the State Council and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China to highlight the significance of agriculture to the nation.

"The development of agriculture and rural areas in 2009 is of special significance," it said.

"The biggest potential for boosting domestic demand lies in rural areas; the foundation for securing steady and relative fast economic growth is based upon agriculture; the toughest work of securing and improving people's livelihoods stays with farmers."

The government aims this year to roll out social security schemes and better protect farmers' land rights and the employment rights of rural migrant workers.

The issue of farmers' rights was brought to national attention late last year after an October policy document that allowed the free transfer of land between farmers.

Earlier statistics from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security showed that 10 million of China's 130 million migrant workers ultimately returned home jobless. As the festive atmosphere begins to fade after the Chinese New Year, the consequences of severe rural unemployment are beginning to jangle nerves.

"Facilitating farmers' employment is an acute and important task in present rural (endeavors)," Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu said yesterday during an inspection to Anhui province.

"We must strengthen job training for rural labor hire as many rural migrant workers as possible in construction work and new public-interest posts and proactively support rural migrant workers who have returned home to start businesses."

The document also urged central and local government departments to adopt measures to create jobs and increase rural incomes. Companies were asked to take on more social responsibilities by giving rural migrant workers favorable employment treatment. Flexible employment policies and more training opportunities were also encouraged.

Meanwhile, local government departments should increase their investment to provide favorable tax and fee policies to those who lost jobs in cities and expect to find new work in their hometowns, the document said.

Without further elaboration, the government also urged departments to map out basic endowment insurance measures suitable for rural conditions and migrant workers, to ensure their rights.

Agriculture remains the weakest link in the Chinese economy, which has seen a widening gap between cities and the countryside.

The document, the sixth of its kind to address rural problems, also urged authorities to take resolute measures to avoid declining grain production and to ensure the steady expansion of agriculture and rural stability.

Various central ministries have already begun to contribute their share in ensuring more rural investment. Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai also promised to make full use of historic subsidies worth 10 billion yuan ($1.46 billion) to purchase agricultural machinery this year.

The subsidies amounted to less than 1 billion yuan in each of the years from 2004-2006. The government then raised the level to 2 billion yuan in 2007 and doubled it again last year.

The National Development and Reform Commission has announced it will continue raising grain purchasing prices by around 16 percent this year - a record-high since China adopted the policy in 2004.

"This will have deeper implications, because farmers' incomes will increase as the prices go up, stimulating domestic consumption," said Liu Jingliang, a Beijing-based rural food market analyst.

Farmers' annual per-capita net income is expected to reach 5,177 yuan this year, according to a Chinese Academy of Sciences report released late last month.

If that were to be realized, the growth rate of farmers' income will exceed 6 percent for six years in a row. The figure stood at 4,761 yuan in 2008.

Source: China Daily/Xinhua

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