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Premier calls for remaking rural economy

2014-12-24 10:53 Global Times Web Editor: Qin Dexing

Experts suggest e-commerce, large-scale farming

The country's agricultural sector needs to adapt to the "new normal" of lower growth rates and focus on economic restructuring and modernization, said a statement released after a meeting meant to set the agenda for China's rural development.

The two-day Central Rural Work Conference, attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and numerous officials, concluded in Beijing on Tuesday.

The conference summed up progress in rural development in 2014 and laid out policies and targets for next year.

The main items on the agenda for 2015 are maintaining grain production growth while improving quality, and boosting ongoing economic transformation and restructuring in the agricultural sector.

"The most urgent task [for agricultural modernization] is to greatly boost development model transformation and restructuring," the conference's statement released on the Ministry of Agriculture's website said.

"Previously, rural work focused on increasing output and maintaining supply, which overused natural resources and damaged the environment," Li Guoxiang, a researcher with the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Accelerating transformation of the agricultural sector was also listed as one of China's five major tasks for 2015 during the Central Economic Work Conference that concluded on December 11.

The statement released at the end of the rural work conference said that the government should adapt to the new normal while boosting agricultural modernization.

China highlighted this "new normal" at the Central Economic Work Conference, saying that the Chinese economy is no longer experiencing high-speed growth. The new normal will be the "main logic" of economic growth for some time to come.

Li said that the key change in the rural sector has been the ample supply of agricultural products in recent years.

China's grain output reached 607.1 million tons in 2014, a rise of 0.9 percent from last year, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics in December. The figure marked the 11th consecutive year of grain output growth.

"The 'new normal' in the agricultural sector means with the pressure of prices on the international market and pressure on resources and environment increasing, [in the context of] economic slowdown and ample agricultural supply, it is no longer possible for the agricultural sector to merely rely on government finances and subsidies to support its development," Li said.

While mapping out policies for 2015, the statement said that China is vowing to push forward agricultural modernization through reform and innovation.

Ma Wenfeng, an analyst with Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant Co, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the key to developing a modern agricultural sector is encouraging large-scale farming and relying on technological progress.

Ma added that planting techniques, management and the overall competence of agricultural workers all need to be improved.

"This will make the prices of agricultural products more competitive and allow the government to remove price controls," Ma said.

Ma's view was echoed by Li, who suggested the agricultural sector should use e-commerce to sell its products.

"In the past sales of agricultural products mainly took place in farmers' markets. By developing e-commerce, [the sector will be able to] cut costs and speed the circulation of agricultural products," Li said.

According to the Tuesday statement, China will also speed up agricultural innovation, facilitate the orderly transfer of management rights for rural lands and the development of new agricultural entities, while it rolls out more preferential policies and beefs up financial support to underpin rural development.

Major targets for 2015 will see China striving to guarantee grain production of at least 550 million tons, and raise rural residents' income growth to above 7.5 percent.

The government will seek to ensure that major agricultural product quality incidents or regional animal epidemic situations do not occur next year, and continue to improve agricultural technology and the use of farming resources.

Farmers are encouraged to form new agricultural entities in an innovative way to achieve economies of scale.

To facilitate associating farmers and their lands, China will guide transfer of management rights of rural lands to new agricultural entities, the statement said.

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