China seeks to rejuvenate countryside with 2018 rural policy

BEIJING (Reuters) - China wants to modernise its farm sector by 2035 to boost rural incomes and living standards, according to a government policy statement that comes amid growing concern about a widening wealth gap and slowing economy.

FILE PHOTO: Farmers weed at a peanut field in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China May 14, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

The document outlines a National Strategic Plan for Rural Vitalization from 2018 to 2022, according to a statement from a press conference on the plan on Monday. State news agency Xinhua earlier published the new policy statement outlining the plan by China’s State Council and the Central Committee of the Communist Party late on Sunday.

The plan’s objectives and tasks will be worked out by 2020, specifying priorities and steps for different regions, the statement said.

The document called for significant progress in rural rejuvenation by 2020, agricultural modernisation by 2035 and a “strong agriculture sector and full realization of farmers’ wealth” by 2050.

China has the largest agriculture sector in the world and hundreds of millions of people work as farmers but productivity is low because of high labour costs and the small size of the farms.

The new plan aims to close the gap between urban and rural areas, eliminate poverty and improve governance in the countryside, Han Jun, the director of the Office of the Central Rural Work Leading Group, China’s top rural policymaker, said on Monday at a press conference on the document.

Local and provincial officials will be held accountable for realising the strategy, he added.

“Implementing the revitalisation strategy will be an important yardstick to promote relevant officials,” Han said.

This year’s document included long-term targets for the first time after previous statements addressed agriculture market reforms and changes in pricing policy.

China has tried to modernise its farm sector recently to make it more efficient and better able to supply the changing tastes of a wealthier, more urban population.

It has been overhauling support for grain production, abandoning state stockpiling schemes and cutting support prices for major crops, such as wheat and rice, after years of bumper harvests saddled the government with overflowing reserves.

The document reiterated plans to improve state auctions and said the government would continue to hold special sales to speed up consuming the stockpiles.

China is also trying to shift the focus to quality rather than quantity by promoting varieties in higher demand, such as high-gluten wheat, or corn used to make silage for dairy cows.

Those efforts will continue, said the document, which also called for upgrading of farm machinery, accelerating the development of modern crops and the development of digital agriculture.

It also reiterated recent efforts to better protect water and soil, strengthen management of resources and said China will deepen land reforms, allowing for more transfer of land.

China is trying to improve financing in rural areas to support modernisation. The document said Beijing would guarantee “strategic financial input” into the revitalization, with public finance prioritising rural areas.

At the press conference, Han said that new avenues for rural fundraising were also needed, while revenues from land transfers needed to be channelled back to the countryside.

“This policy will hep us raise more funds to win the battle against poverty,” said Han.

Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Christian Schmollinger