The World Bank on Friday praised China's efforts to reduce poverty by developing agriculture, but said more funding is needed if it is to further lift the standard of living among the rural poor.
The country's biggest achievement in the past two decades is poverty reduction, Sari Soderstrom, rural sector coordinator of the World Bank China, said on Friday at the release of the latest World Development Report 2008.
World Bank economists said poverty reduction has been made possible as agricultural productivity rises.
"Agricultural growth has been highly successful in reducing rural poverty in East Asia over the past 15 years," said Francois Bourguignon, chief economist and senior vice-president of the bank.
In China and India, agricultural productivity has gone up while poverty has been going down in recent decades, said Harold Alderman, World Bank economist and co-author of the report, "Agriculture for Development".
"There has been sustained progress in both countries."
Many countries have sought to learn from China's experience, said Sari. "Most developing countries are looking to China to try to duplicate recipes of success for this."
China reduced the number of poverty-stricken people by 195 million - by the World Bank standard - during the 1990-2002 period, according to a report released by the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development on Wednesday.
That number accounts for more than 90 percent of the total reduction worldwide in the period.
China has been increasing funding to agriculture and rural areas in its drive to build a new countryside, as it tries to narrow the rural-urban development gap.
The government abolished agricultural tax at the beginning of last year.
The World Bank acknowledged the efforts of transforming economies, including China, to provide better incentives, but warned that the real challenges lie ahead.
"Rural poverty accounts for an extraordinary 82 percent of total poverty in transforming countries," said Robert Zoellick, World Bank Group president.
"A greater focus on agriculture is essential when considering population pressures, declining farm sizes, water scarcity and environmental contamination and the need to develop lagging high-poverty areas."
The World Bank suggested that farmers need to be helped to develop high-value products, such as horticulture, poultry, fish and dairy, and financial access should be made easier for them.
"State-owned banks (in developing countries) would not like to lend to rural development although they are told to," said Sari.
Agricultural spending also needs to be channeled in a more efficient way, she said.