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Sustainable agriculture crucial for progress
By Qin Chuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-29 22:08

Senior officials and experts from home and abroad on Friday set out sustainable agriculture as a crucial factor for China's development as a whole.

"Currently, the top priority for the Chinese Government is meeting the daunting challenges of sustainable agriculture and rural development," said Paul Thibault, president of the Canadian International Development Agency.

Thibault is a vice-chairman of the Third Phase of the China Council for International Co-operation on Environment and Development.

The council, established by the State Council of China in 1992, is a high-level non-governmental advisory body that aims to strengthen co-operation and exchange between China and the international community on environmental and development issues.

The council opened its third meeting on Friday in Beijing. The theme of the meeting is "sustainable agriculture and rural development."

Shortage in resources, ecological damage and environmental pollution have become more and more noticeable in rural regions, said Minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration Xie Zhenhua.

Such problems have already been impeding the sustainable development of agriculture, Xie, who is also a vice-chairman of the council, said at Friday's opening session.

Nearly 70 per cent of China's population live in rural areas and the national goal of a well-off society won't be reached if rural people don't gain access to opportunities for greater incomes.

It will be meaningless for rural people's becoming more wealthy if the environment in rural areas is not improved at the same time, he added.

Thibault said the council sometimes tends to forget that its mandate includes both development as well as the environment.

But this year's report on agriculture and rural development, worked out by the council's expert team on agriculture and rural development, gives appropriate emphasis to the development side of the equation, he said.

"Environment and development are simply two sides of the same coin," he said.

United Nations Resident Co-ordinator and UN Development Programme Resident Representative Khalid Malik said sustainable agriculture and rural development coincide with China's goal of achieving a better society.

Although China is seen as a global manufacturing base now, whatever decisions are made regarding agriculture will affect more than half of China's population, he added.

The lead expert group of the council offered suggestions that the basic aims for China's agriculture and rural development must be raising farmers' incomes, improving food security and protecting the environment and sustainable development.

According to Vice-Minister of Agriculture Zhang Baowen, China has made remarkable achievements in protecting farmland.

Since last year two-thirds of the development zones across the country have been cancelled and more than 13 million square kilometres of farmland restored with planting.

Efforts are also made to protect wild plants, control invasive alien species, improve the environment, and protect grasslands, Zhang said.

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