China needs 'extraordinary measures' to revitalize countryside: minister

FILE PHOTO: China's Agriculture Minister Han Changfu attends a news conference on the sidelines of China's National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China must adopt “extraordinary measures” to help revitalize the countryside and prevent its rural economy from falling further behind amid continuing urbanization, the country’s agriculture minister said.

China needed to modernize its farm sector and will also provide support for entrepreneurs to return to rural regions and start businesses, Han Changfu, minister of agriculture and rural affairs told the Boao forum on the southern island province of Hainan.

Rural revitalization was a major priority of the agriculture ministry, Han added, according to a note on the ministry website late on Monday. The ministry has taken on additional powers for farm sector investment as part of a sweeping government revamp launched last month.

China has promised to tackle a wide urban-rural income gap, with average annual disposable income in the countryside at 13,432 yuan ($2,130) last year, compared to 33,834 yuan in urban areas, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

China’s strategy to alleviate rural poverty has focused mainly on encouraging farmers to move to the cities for work.

China’s permanent urban population reached 813.47 million by the end of 2017, according to official government figures, amounting to 58.5 percent of the total population and up nearly six percentage points in just five years. A total of 101.65 million rural people have become permanent urban residents since 2012.

However, the massive population shift has left large parts of the countryside short of labor, and China has been trying to create incentives to encourage rural workers to stay put.

Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Richard Pullin