The Communist Party of China (CPC)Central Committee issued a landmark policy document on Sunday as a guideline to further rural reform and development.
LIBERALIZING FARMLAND USE
One of the biggest moves was to allow farmers to "lease their contracted farmland or transfer their land use right" to boost the scale of operation for farm production and provide funds for them to start new businesses.
"This breakthrough is necessary," said Xu Xianglin, an economics department professor at the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC. "It meets the need of industrialization and urbanization in the current stage."
According to the full text of the document, markets for the lease of contracted farmland and transfer of farmland usage rights shall be set up and improved to allow farmers to sub-contract, lease, exchange and swap their land-use rights, or joined share-holding entities with their farmland.
Such transfers of land-use rights must be voluntarily participation by farmers, with adequate payment and in accordance with the law, the CPC Central Committee said.
In the past, however, farmland was collectively owned and meted out to farmers in long term leasing contracts.
Some experts said the new policy on land use could help absorb capital to the countryside so as to speed up modernization in agriculture, and accelerate the process of urbanization with more farmers going to seek jobs in cities.
PUSHING RURAL-URBAN INTEGRATION
While anti-corruption has always been the focus of the central government's work, the CPC has also pledged to balance urban and rural development and push the integration process of these areas.
Comprehensive planning would be conducted in fields including industrial development, infrastructure construction, public service as well as employment, with the needs of both rural and urban areas taken into account.
According to the new document, the government would endeavor to optimize industrial structure in rural areas, foster enterprises owned by villages and townships and channel capital and talent to the countryside.
The government would also help build the human resources market to help farmers go to cities for work, and migrants to start their careers in villages. It vowed to enhance safeguarding the rights of migrant workers, ensuring them the same wages and benefits in term of their children's education, public health and housing as citizens.
Li Chenggui, a research fellow with the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was supportive.
He said the Ministry of Agriculture statistics showed that in China there were currently about 126 million migrant workers away from their hometown and that most were having difficulty becoming residents of cities.
Migrant workers are always called a "vulnerable group" in facing wage arrears, a lack of social security and facing prejudice, among others. They are also blamed, usually unfairly, for causing social problems.
"We couldn't have their farmland-use rights effectively transferred if they don't become (urban) residents," Li said.
BETTER LIFE FOR FARMERS
Apart from these measures, the document also underscored food safety, the establishment of a modern agricultural industrial system and the modernization of rural finances as well as security systems.
"There is an old saying in China, 'food is as essential as the heaven for people,'" said Ke Bingsheng, the China Agricultural University president who previously worked for the Ministry of Agriculture.
"That's why so much importance was attached to issues involving agriculture, farmers and rural areas," he said.
In the past, the CPC Central Committee plenary sessions always stressed agricultural issues, the milestone being the third plenary session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978 that put forward the policy of reform and opening up.
China currently boasts 950 million registered farmers, with 750million living in the countryside. But the income gap between this majority and urban residents has kept widening over the years.
In 2007, the income of urban citizens was more than three times that of farmers, historically, the biggest gap.
In March, the central government allocated 562.5 billion yuan (82.2 billion U.S. dollars) as a budget related to agriculture, rural areas and farmers. This was a year-on-year increase of 130.7billion yuan, said Premier Wen Jiabao in his work report at the opening of the first session of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC), the top legislature.
"Now that China has achieved fast development, it is time that farmers, who made great contribution to the economic miracle, share the fruit with (urban) citizens," said Professor Xu Xianglin of the Party School.
Research fellow Li said "our ultimate goal is to have some farmers become citizens, while the rest live a life no worse than the former."