BEIJING (Reuters) - China has listed food safety and modernizing farms as among key priorities this year, its 2015 rural policy outline showed, as it tackles falling agricultural productivity that has raised concerns about its future food supply.
The “number one document”, issued every January and released by state news agency Xinhua on Sunday, showed China will also protect farmland and lend more to farmers to narrow a wealth gap between rural and urban areas.
Attempts to clean up land that has been damaged by heavy metal mining and processing will be widened this year, and “permanent farmland” that is off-limit to industrial and urban development will be created, the document said.
Modern farms will be set up, and regulation of the quality of food and other farm products will be enhanced, it said.
On land reforms, aimed at allowing farmers to trade their land to alleviate poverty and create bigger and more efficient farms, the document said the focus is on expanding an experiment that registers land usage rights to cover entire provinces.
Chinese farmers typically hold long-term land use contracts allocated by the government, which allow them to farm the land but not sell it.
China has been struggling to squeeze as much food out of its dwindling, contaminated land as possible as demand increases from ever-expanding urban regions.
About a third of China’s population lives in rural areas, according to a Reuters estimate. Many young people have migrated to cities, reducing productivity on farms and raising concerns about the country’s future food output.
More infrastructure will be built in rural areas, including laying water pipes, upgrading existing power grids, or constructing networks for alternative energy such as hydro and solar power.
Private investment in farms will be encouraged, and authorities will experiment with ways to provide cheaper financing options to more farmers, the document said.
China Development Bank, which makes large infrastructure investment at home and abroad and lends at the behest of China’s government to support its policies, will have to increase mid- and long-term infrastructure loans to rural areas, it said.
The Postal Savings Bank of China, which serves low-income entrepreneurs, will be encouraged to expand in villages, the document showed.
Agricultural businesses that meet undisclosed criteria will also be encouraged to sell bonds, and the leasing of big farm equipment will be tested.
Direct subsidies for farmers, currently being trialled by cotton and soybean growers, will continue, the document said. Officials have said that authorities need more time to assess the efficacy of the subsidy before rolling it out to other crops.
Reporting by Koh Gui Qing, David Stanway and Dominique Patton; Editing by Jason Neely and Stephen Powell