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Xinhua Insight: Defying challenges, China's rural reforms to bring changes

English.news.cn   2014-03-10 14:15:17

BEIJING, March 10 (Xinhua) -- As spring approaches, Yan Deyou and several hired farm workers are busy plowing his large plot of land before planting crops.

Unlike most rural households in China who own small plots of farmland, the 43-year-old runs a modern agricultural park with 200 mu (about 14 hectares) of farmland leased from fellow villagers.

"As the farm expands, large machinery will be used on more land. Farm work will not be as tough as before," said Yan, a villager in Xiaogang, Fengyang City in the eastern province of Anhui.

Yan's operation is in sharp contrast to the traditional agricultural model found in Xiaogang, the epitome of China's last round rural reforms.

In 1978, 18 farmers in Xiaogang signed a pact to resist the egalitarian agricultural system. The pact allowed them to manage agricultural production on their own under the household contract responsibility system.

The practice encouraged farmers' enthusiasm in farm work and boosted agricultural productivity. It was later promoted across the country.

But from the late 1980s, China shifted its reform priority to urban areas. In the following decades, rural areas saw slow growth and farmers reported low incomes.

During the period, younger rural residents shunned farm work and went to cities looking for higher-earning jobs. Therefore, much countryside farmland was looked after by women and the elderly or just left barren.

Yan's new model received a boost last week when Premier Li Keqiang said in a government work report that the government will promote modern farming, guide orderly transfer of land use rights and offer subsidies to encourage the creation of large agricultural parks.

When forecasting a scenario across the vast countryside, Li Chenggui, a former rural policy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and now a deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Rural Affairs, said more large modern farms are expected to emerge.

Owners of large farms would need extra workers rather than do the farm work themselves, said Li, also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Agricultural production received another boost as the government pledged to promote agricultural insurance and other financial reforms to help farmers have easier access to loans.

Ma Xiguo, head of an agricultural cooperative in Lai'an County in Anhui Province, said he welcomed the government efforts.

"We need money to expand production. In the future we will have more collateral for loans," said Ma.

More large farms will emerge as the younger rural population go to work in cities, leaving many villages desolate, said Li Changping, president of China Countryside Planning and Design Institute.

About 60 percent of all villages nationwide are expected to disappear eventually, 30 percent will become small towns and 10 percent will merge into cities, said Li Changping.

For the 60 percent, modern farming is an option and for the 30 percent, the government should provide equality in access to social security, education and health services, Li Changping said.

The central government is also looking to tackle challenges that arise from urbanization, seen as a new economic growth engine.

Liu Li, a deputy to the National People's Congress, or the top legislature, said, "I hope that one day, schools in the countryside will be as good as those in the cities and more children of farmers will have opportunities to enrol into key universities."

"I hope that rural residents will not need to go to city hospitals when seeking medical treatment. For migrants in cities, I hope they can enjoy equal access to social security and other public services," Liu said.

Without equal treatment, many migrants would eventually return to their hometowns. In that time they may have become ghost cities or villages with many social problems, said Li Changping.

In his government work report, Premier Li pledged to address concerns and meet expectations.

China will promote a new, people-oriented urbanization roadmap that attaches importance to ecological protection and cultural heritage, he said.

The premier pledged to allow children of migrant workers to go to schools in cities where they work and cover all such employees with the same basic public services. The government will seek to provide good education so that every child has equal development opportunity.

At the moment, tens of millions of migrants have no choice but to leave their children in their hometowns with their grandparents. These left-behind children are victims of the unequal treatment between the countryside and cities.

Premier Li also promised to raise subsidies for medical insurance, build better hospitals and a unified pension system for its rural and urban population.

Zhang Wenxin, a deputy governor of Xinbin County in northeast China's Liaoning Province, backed the central government's pledge to build "beautiful villages".

Zhang said the new policy would help retain diverse rural traditions and cultures, a departure from an earlier policy of demolishing villages and building apartment blocks.

"The villages nationwide will have more diverse cultures. One day, there might be museums and coffee shops in them," said Zhang.

Editor: Zhu Ningzhu
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