Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Professional farmers needed for the fields

By Wang Yiqing (China Daily) Updated: 2013-12-27 06:49

'Who will farm in the fields?" The central government raised this important question in the statement issued after Central Rural Work Conference on Tuesday, clearly highlighting the essential role of people in rural work.

Because we can hardly deal well with rural work without plenty of qualified farmers, solving the problem of the lack of quality farmers is the prerequisite for solving the problems of agriculture.

But the fact is, for a long time, being a "farmer" has been an undesirable identity in China, due to farmers' low incomes and poor living conditions. The income from working in the fields for a year may be less than can be made in three months working in a city. Because of this, at the end of 2012, China had more than 260 million farmer-turned-workers who had left their home villages to work in cities. The agricultural labor force, especially the young and educated, has been drastically drained from rural areas due to the low returns to be made from household farming.

To make farming an attractive occupation, the authorities need to make efforts to increase farmers' incomes first in order to boost rural residents' enthusiasm for farming.

The authorities should first make efforts to change the traditional self-sufficient farming model and establish modern professional farming, as agricultural industrialization, larger farms and intensive farming will effectively change the current low-efficiency farming model and raise farmers' incomes. In the statement, the government specifically states it will advance support to household farms, farmer cooperatives and industrialized leading farming enterprises, which is aimed at cultivating upgraded farming units and promoting larger scale farming operations.

Modern agricultural services are also needed to support modern farming methods, and this is something the government will emphasize in future rural development. "We should cultivate a mechanism for purchasing services and form a multi-level, multi-form and diversified socialized system of services for agriculture", Xu Xiaoqing, head of the agricultural economy department with the State Council's Development Research Center, told the media.

External support is also indispensable if farmers are to become more qualified and professional. Zhang Hongyu, head of the industrial policy and regulation department with the Ministry of Agriculture, describes the characteristics of the new-style professional farmer as "having capital, mastering technology and being good at management in farming". However, these three elements are just what the majority of traditional farmers lack. Training, including training in technology, professional skills and management experience are needed to cultivate professional farmers. Preferable policies, agricultural subsidies and financial support from the government will also be necessary in order to overcome the financing obstacle.

By ensuring farmers have the necessary capital, technological and management skills, it should be possible to achieve the goal of doubling the average income of farmers in 2010 by the end of 2020.

Improving rural people's living standards is essential if a well-off society in an all-round way is to be realized. While China has achieved rapid economic growth in recent years, the fruits of reform and opening-up have been enjoyed by urban citizens rather than rural citizens, and there is a growing wealth gap between urban and rural residents. In fact, a huge proportion of China's rural population still lives in poverty, and they should not become voiceless.

China's rural population still accounts for about half the total population and their interests should not be ignored or sacrificed.

Whether agricultural production can be a profitable and attractive means of making a living is the key to answering the question who will farm in the fields.

And this is a question of especial significance to China, given its huge population. As the government highlighted in its statement of the conference, "only when a country is basically self-sufficient in food, can it take the initiative in food security and grasp the overall situation for economic and social growth".

The author is a writer with China Daily.

(China Daily 12/27/2013 page8)

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