NANCHANG, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- Last year was another bumper year for grain production in China, marking the ninth consecutive year in which grain harvests were plentiful.
But with millions of farmers moving to urban areas to seek employment, the question of who will take care of grain production in coming years has become a significant concern.
China, the world's largest grain consumer, saw its grain imports nearly triple to 10.77 million tonnes during the January-November period of 2012 in comparison with the previous year, according to the latest customs statistics.
The increased imports have triggered widespread concern about the country's long-asserted goal of maintaining food security, as the government has vowed to domestically produce 95 percent of the rice, corn and wheat the country consumes.
In the long-term, a great number of rural people will leave the countryside and become pure consumers of grain instead of producers, which will create more pressure on grain supplies, said Duan Yingbi, former director of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Rural Work.
In the years since the reform and opening-up drive of the late 1970s, China's urbanization rate has risen from 17.9 percent to 51.3 percent in 2011, according to the National Statistics Bureau.
The urban population increased by an annual average of 20.96 million people from 2002 to 2011, which means the same number of people have become pure consumers of grain.
Meanwhile, a total of 250 million farmers are working as migrant workers in cities, reducing the number of laborers working in the fields.
Encouraging young farmers to stay in their hometowns and grow grain has become an urgent problem in terms of maintaining food security, said Yin Xiaojian, deputy director of the Rural Economy Institute of the Jiangxi Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.
Land management has become an important way to keep farmers in their hometowns, said Liu Shouying, deputy director of the Rural Department of the State Council Development Research Center.
At the Central Rural Work Conference, which concluded last December, it was stressed that the government should work to create systems that are more organized when it comes to agricultural production and operation. The government should also increase support for new types of businesses, like family farms and specialized cooperatives.
A policy document released earlier this year stated that the government will create policies that will speed up transfers of rural land, as well as offer more subsidies for family farms and farming cooperatives in an effort to develop large-scale farming.
Land transfers and scaled management that features more reliance on technology should be encouraged, as they can reduce reliance on extensive labor, Duan said.
A farmer from Anyi county in east China's Jiangxi province recently made headlines after he gave more than 1.4 million yuan (222,990 U.S. dollars) in bonuses in early January to 100 farmers who help him manage his land.
Ling Jihe, a farmer from Dinghu township, contracted 1,000 hectares of land in 12 villages in 2010.
Ling harvested more than 10,000 tonnes of rice in 2012 and made profits of more than 2 million yuan. He took out a large part of the profits to reward his "professional managers."
Liu Gaomei, one of Ling's managers, received a bonus of 163,000 yuan after exceeding his production quota by 25,000 kg on the 100 hectares of land he managed.
Liu also has a monthly salary of 4,500 yuan, greater than the salary his peers enjoy in the city.
It is hoped that professional farmers and family farms will guarantee China's food safety in the future, said Zhang Xiaoniu, deputy head of the Anyi county agricultural bureau.
However, farmers like Ling are still a minority. More than 80 percent of China's farmland is operated in a decentralized fashion.
In China, the basic land management system is double-layered. Land is collectively owned by farmers but contracted to individual households. In recent years, land transfers among farmers have been encouraged to boost grain production.
However, the amount of transferred farmland had reached just 15.2 million hectares by the end of 2011, accounting for only 17.8 percent of China's total amount of farmland.
Professional farmers who contract large areas of land have emerged in the past decade, but most of them have little education and rely on their experience, instead of technology, when farming.
More than 90 percent of professional farmers are middle school or primary school graduates, less than 5 percent of whom are under 30 years old, according to a survey of three major grain producing areas conducted by the State Council Development Research Center in July 2012.
Strengthening the training of professional farmers is an urgent task for the government, Duan said.
The government should establish a qualification accreditation system and train agricultural operators, as well as improve farmers' technical prowess, market awareness and management ability, Duan said.
The government of Jilin province, a major grain production base in northeast China, sends 5,000 agricultural technicians to villages to train farmers, said Ren Kejun, director of the provincial commission of rural affairs.
About 200,000 professional farmers are trained annually, Ren said.
There were 30,800 rural cooperatives in the province by the end of 2012, up 37 percent from the previous year. More than 1.9 million rural households have joined the cooperatives, accounting for 47 percent of the total number of households, Ren said.