February 4, 2018 / 9:54 AM / 15 days ago

China seeks to rejuvenate countryside with 2018 rural policy

BEIJING (Reuters) - China wants to modernise its farm sector by 2035 as part of a plan 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.

The statement 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.

“Without the modernisation of agriculture there is no national modernization,” said the government’s first policy statement of the year.

China has the largest agriculture sector in the world and hundreds of millions of people work as farmers but productivity is low.

The statement published by state news agency Xinhua late on Sunday is called the Number One document and sets out Beijing’s priorities for the year.

A villager dries persimmons on rooftop at a village in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China November 4, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

China has already taken steps to modernise its sprawling farm sector in recent years in a bid to make it more efficient and better able to supply changing tastes in a wealthier, 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.

A farmer spreads red chili to dry at a village in Huaibei, Anhui province, China November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

It 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.

It also wants to improve China’s agricultural trade policy system and support large grain importers and agribusinesses, it continued.

Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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