China underscores scientific innovation for sustained agricultural growth

Chinese authorities Wednesday issued its first policy document for 2012, underscoring the importance of scientific and technological innovation for sustained agricultural growth.

To ensure an effective supply of agricultural products is vital to the country’s overall and strategic development amid the complicated global economic situation, deepening influence of global climate changes and increasing shortages of arable land and water at home, said the document, the ninth of its kind since 2004 to address rural problems.

This was the first time the government took “accelerating agricultural scientific and technological innovation” as the theme of its No. 1 central document.

“It is a milestone in the history of China’s agricultural science and technology development,” said Chen Mengshan, a spokesman from the Ministry of Agriculture.

The country needs more innovation efforts in the agricultural sector as it relies on imports for more than 50 percent of its live pigs, layers, broilers and fine breeds of cattle. Besides, more than 90 percent of the country’s high-end vegetables, flowers and plants come from other countries and regions, said Chen.

SUPPORT FOR INNOVATION

The document said the government will continue to expand its fiscal budget for agriculture in 2012 and direct more of the country’s fixed-asset investment toward the sector.

It said the government should play a leading role in investing in agricultural science and ensure that the investment will create “significantly” faster growth compared to fiscal revenues.

The country will also offer more subsidies for major grain-producing areas and farming cooperatives, with direct subsidies for farmers to be increased.

Government investment will boost development of both frontier agricultural technologies and basic researches which focus on bio-safety, farm product safety, effective use of farmland, ecological restoration and genetic regulation, according to the document.

The government also is eyeing major achievements in the development of agricultural bio-technology, breeding, new materials, precision farming, water-saving irrigation, new fertilizers, epidemic control, marine agriculture, product processing and shipping, and farm equipment.

Particular emphasis will be given to scientific innovation in seed production, the document said.

Meanwhile, the authorities will build more water projects, treat rivers and lakes, strengthen reservoirs and prevent geological disasters to increase the areas that have access to irrigation.

Efforts will be made to promote new technologies and equipment for water-saving irrigation, expand the purchasing subsidies and offer tax breaks for the equipment, the document said.

The government will offer credit support to the purchase of large and medium machinery so as to push for agricultural modernization.

As renewed measures to facilitate rural market circulation, the government will encourage banks to increase lending to rural regions and support commercial banks to set up township outlets. At the same time, it will work to keep prices of agricultural commodities at a reasonable level, the document said.

Further, the document pledged to provide more educational training on science and technology in the rural areas to produce professionals in the sector to facilitate growth. It also pledged to launch key ecological projects in the country.

LAND POLICY

The document said the government will accelerate revisions of relevant laws to improve its policies regarding rural land.

The transfer of land use rights must be based on a compensated, voluntary basis and be conducted in accordance with the law, it said.

Local authorities should step up with registration of rural land ownership and steadily carry out pilot programs to contract rural land. Meanwhile, the government will work to improve the rules of conciliation and arbitration of land disputes, said the document.

Last year, illegal land grabs and other regulatory issues caused mass protests in China. A dispute over land use, financing and elections in Wukan village in the southern province of Guangdong led to large-scale protests by villages against local authorities since September.

Premier Wen Jiabao said at the annual central conference on rural work, which opened late December, that China should strive to promote agricultural modernization and protect farmers’ rights to boost the development of rural areas.

He said farmers enjoy the legal rights of land contracts, land use and collective income distribution as basic protections, no matter if they move into the cities or stay in the countryside.

“No one is empowered to deprive such rights,” Wen said, adding that any slight failure in agriculture would hamper the country’s economic development and social stability.

Thousands of residents in Wukan on Wednesday saw the start of an election for new leadership after former village heads were removed.

Official data showed China’s grain output rose to a record high of 571.21 million tonnes in 2011. The figure represented a year-on-year increase of 4.5 percent and marked the eighth consecutive year of growth for the country’s grain output.

Meanwhile, farmers’ incomes posted relatively fast expansion over eight straight years, which is expected to top 6,900 yuan (1,092.6 U.S.dollars) in 2011.

Despite remarkable achievements in improving agricultural production and the livelihoods of rural residents in 2011, China now faces growing difficulties and uncertainties in securing a stable development of rural areas, said the document.