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Li: China will move to modernize farms

Updated: 2013-11-07 00:31
By ZHAO YINAN ( China Daily)

Li: China will move to modernize farms

Premier Li Keqiang talks to farmers in the cab of an agricultural vehicle in Fuyuan, Heilongjiang province, on Tuesday. A rare flood hit the county in August, threatening the harvest. PHOTO BY DING LIN / XINHUA

Premier Li Keqiang said China will make a new effort in agricultural modernization by promoting large-scale planting based on joint-stock ownership of land and better services to the farmers.

Li made the remarks during a trip to Heilongjiang province, China's largest crop producer, from Monday to Wednesday.

Rural reform is approaching a new turning point in the second-largest economy in the world, the Chinese premier said. It will feature innovation in the management system of farming and economies of scale based on farmers' consent, their various ways of cooperation and the provision of modern farm services.

As a continuation of the rural reform started in 1978 to dismantle the regimented collective commune system, the new change will inevitably involve a reform of the present system of land administration, Li said.

Experts said the new rural reform will likely tackle the disadvantages of household-based small-plot farming that have been in practice for the last 30-some years and which may have discouraged the use of advanced technology and transfer of land rights among farmers.

A breakthrough in the rural land administration system is also expected to be part of the overall reform agenda at the upcoming Third Plenum.

"Reform must respect the creative initiative from the grassroots, because you are the one who knows the land best," Li told farmers as he visited local families. "We support exploring attempts, made to fit local conditions, to hew out a feasible path toward modern agriculture."

In addition, supporting systems such as a strong logistics network and lower threshold for cooperatives to purchase and store agricultural products for profits are needed.

In 2012, the country had 680,000 rural cooperatives, a 30 percent year-on-year increase, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

China recorded grain output of more than 589 million metric tons in 2012. It was the ninth consecutive year of increased grain harvests, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Northeast China's Heilongjiang province is China's first national pilot for modern agriculture reform, a trial approved by the State Council in April, weeks after Li Keqiang took office in March.

Lu Bu, a researcher in agricultural resources and regional planning at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said the country's agricultural output is likely to increase as more professional investors, family farms and rural cooperatives are encouraged to take part in farm production.

"Farmers will be interested in using more advanced technologies in agricultural production when they are farming on a larger scale," he said.

Wu Jingxue, director of the Agricultural Economy Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said the reform bears more strategic significance than yielding more corn.

"Promoting economies of scale in rural areas can boost the income of farmers and hopefully narrow the rural-urban income gap."

"Continuous income increase earned out of farming must be based on the increase of land resources and the use of advanced technology," he added.

In a bid to reduce the cost of land transfer, Wu suggested giving farmers the right to sell their rural construction land without having to go through the statutory expropriation process as well as the proprietary right.

He dismissed allegations that the policy is likely to make China retreat to the era of people's communes, when the land and other household properties were owned by the collective unit. "One key difference is that the new reform ensures legal protection on the property rights of investors, family farms and rural cooperatives," he said.

Tao Ran, a professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said that one premise of the new rural reform will be greater freedom in internal migration, featuring a more accommodative residential registration system in the cities and an equal social insurance network covering both urban and rural areas.

"Trials of land transfer and large-scale farming have been carried out in some areas. But these cannot be expanded nationwide because the current system still doesn't render enough protection to the farmers. If they pass their land rights on to others, they may become homeless," Tao said.