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Old Ironbelt needs grain revival
By Zhao Renfeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-03-13 01:04

What pops into your mind when you come across a buttery ear of corn?

The sweet smell of popcorn in cinemas, a regular lunch combo at a Taco Bell shop, or a crispy tortilla strips with minced chicken and avocado?

Everyone may have a different idea, but they would naturally think of corn as just a food.

Yet, corn can outshine other grains such as wheat and rice in functioning as an important source of industrial raw materials.

Nowadays a greater amount of corn is actually used in industrial sectors when it is made into such products as starch and alcohol fuel.

Therefore it is no wonder that when Hong Hu, governor of Northeast China's Jilin Province, sets out to fulfill his ambitious goal of reviving the province's farm industry, the creation of a "corn economy" tops the agenda.

"Corn is a very special kind of grain. To solve the problems long plaguing the farm industry in our province, we need to rethink how to make full use of it," Hu told reporters yesterday.

He is joined by Zhang Wenyue, governor of Liaoning Province, and Zhang Zuoji, governor of Heilongjiang Province, in a news conference on rejuvenating Northeast China during the ongoing second session of the 10th National People's Congress.

Dubbed as China's "Golden Belt of Corn," Jilin boasts its largest corn output in China.

The province produces one-seventh of the country's corn and exports three-fourths of the country's total.

The three provinces of Northeast China form one of the most important bases for producing commodity grains in the country.

However, as corn prices kept dropping in the past few years, what makes Jilin proud of is now also a headache for the province's governor as a harvest in autumn may not necessarily guarantee a good return for farmers' year's hard work.

"The price for corn has fallen from 0.5 yuan (6.02 US cents) per 500 gram in 1998 to 0.45 yuan (5.42 US cents) per 500 gram last year," Hong told reporters.

According to him, even though the province's grain sales reached a record high last year, 29.1 million tons of grain had to be put in storage, which continues to rise.

"As living conditions keep on improving in China, even corn growers don't eat corn too much. The general oversupply in grain market has beaten down the prices ,'' he said.

The governors said that their provinces will continue to grow grains, but will strive to realize more added value from the products and open a broad market for grain production.

Jilin, according to Hong, is planning to rapidly develop the corn industry to allow farmers to reap high returns soon.

"Counting on the new technology, we are working to lower costs in grain production and increase productivity," he said.

Zhang Zuoji also accentuated the urgency to solve the problems that has burdened the agriculture industry and vowed to go all out to increase farmers' incomes.

He said Heilongjiang Province has mapped out a plan to ease heavy burdens on farmers through tax reduction and subsidies. On average, every farmer is expected to see an income increase of 300 yuan (US$36.1) by the end of this year.

The province is also seeking scientific approaches to perfect the structure of grain production, while maintaining its contribution to the nation's food security, said Zhang.

"It is our duty to continue building up the nation's base for commodity grains," he said.

"We will combine our resources of the three provinces and strive for the prosperity of Northeast China together," Zhang added.

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