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'Zombie machines' exposed: China launches crackdown on substandard agricultural machinery

By Liang Shuang | | Updated: 2023-12-04 21:42
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The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has launched a nationwide crackdown on substandard agricultural machinery following media reports uncovering a scheme to exploit government subsidies.

On Friday, China Central Television's economic channel aired a 30-minute program revealing that some companies have been manufacturing and selling low-quality fertilizer distributors solely to reap government subsidies.

Each year, governments at all levels hand out billions of subsidies for farm machinery purchase. This subsidy helps farmers buy and upgrade the necessary machinery for agricultural production. The main goal is to boost the level of mechanization in agriculture and enhance overall farming efficiency.

According to the TV program, Henan Saiteng Agricultural Machinery has been producing these fertilizer distributors, which are priced between 12,000 yuan and 19,000 yuan ($1,700 to $2,650) each on paper. These machines are then distributed to farmers for free by local machine contractors, who collect a 5,000 yuan subsidy payment from farmers once the subsidies are transferred to their accounts.

Despite being designed for fertilizer distribution, these substandard machines have proven ineffective and impractical. Farmers have dubbed them "zombie machines" due to their poor performance and frequent malfunctions. Regular fertilizer distributors can typically cover nearly 3 hectares of land per day, while these machines struggle to manage even 1 hectare.

The scam has been particularly prevalent in Jiangsu province, where a company in Zhenjiang city has applied for subsidies for 175 such machines, of which 153 have already been claimed. During the crucial autumn sowing season, however, these machines have remained idle in warehouses.

Liu Jian, who runs an agricultural machinery company in Jiangsu's Taizhou city, revealed the profit motive behind the scam. He explained that despite the inflated book prices, the machines only cost around 3,000 yuan each to produce, generating a profit of 2,000 yuan per machine. Additionally, some localities, like Taizhou, offer additional localized subsidies, further boosting the profits.

In response to the reports, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has swiftly taken action, forming task forces to investigate the situation in Henan, Jiangsu, and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. The ministry has pledged to impose severe penalties on all companies involved in the scam.

Furthermore, the ministry has announced plans for a comprehensive national overhaul of agricultural machinery subsidies to eliminate any loopholes and prevent future abuses.

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