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Central Dossier No. 1 to Focus on Agriculture

From Cover, issue no. 347, December 24, 2007
Translated by Ren Jie
Original article:

The EO has learned that the 2008 Central Dossier No.1 – the policy priority guideline document issued yearly by the Chinese government – is likely to focus on agricultural issues.

What goes into the dossier will form the core discussions at the soon-to-be-held annual Central Rural Work Conference. The dossier is expected to highlight the "three agriculture problems", namely problems face by the agricultural industry as a whole, agricultural villages and farmers.

It is likely to be the 10th such dossier focusing on agricultural issues since the introduction of reform and opening up policy 30 years ago. The interests of 900 million farmers in China will be impacted.

Indicators of Possible Concerns

Consistent with previous years' practices, the dossier draftee team comprises of members from the Central Economy Leadership Group, the Central Rural Work Leadership Group, the Central Policy Research Office, the State Council's Development Research Center, the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Development and Reform Commission, the State Treasury, and the Labor and Social Security Ministry.

Unlike last year, officers from local-level agriculture bureaus were not invited. Inside sources say that grassroots opinions are related through other channels. Apparently, several field research projects conducted by the National Development and Reform Commission in Hebei and Guizhou in October were part of the drafting exercise.

The field researchers had reportedly visited many local leaders, towns and villages to sample opinions, indicating the likelihood that poverty alleviation and rural development be highlighted in the 2008 dossier.

Other evidence includes the hectic touring schedule of Hui Liangyu, the deputy director in charge of agriculture, in the past months. Among the provinces Hui visited include Hubei, Jilin, Liaoning, inner Mongolia, Sichuan, and Guizhou. By summing up his visits' itineraries and important speeches made, one can roughly sketch the outline of possible concerns in the upcoming dossier.

In the first two weeks of December, several important central-level meets were held-- the Central Economic Work Conference, the Executive Meeting of the State Council, and the Communist Party Central Political Bureau meeting. All of the above hit upon a common theme-- agriculture.

At the Central Economic Work Conference, which many deem as the barometer of China's economic development, the central government proposed strengthening the foundation of China's agriculture and improve livelihood in the countryside.

These would perhaps form the basis of the 2008 dossier. The core of the dossier might be an expansion of investments to improve infrastructure, especially the irrigation system, which is one critical pillar of agricultural output.

Kinks in China's agricultural output system have been identified by the Ministry of Agriculture as a contributing factor to this year's soaring prices of primary products, especially pork. As such, analysts believe that the government has been forced to look into the importance of agriculture and to reinstate the fundamental status of the industry in rural areas.

Lessons in the Past
The first Dossier No. 1 concerning agriculture and the countryside was issued in 1982. But just 4 years later, the key attention of the dossier had shifted to urban issues. Only in 2004, after 18 years of being overshadowed, did the government bring its attention back to agriculture when it issued a dossier emphasizing improving peasant income.

That same year China's food supply chain was severely challenged. It was reported that the country was short 37.5 million tons of grains, with some areas affected more than others. In response to the food crisis, over subsequent years, the government had highlighted agriculture issues in several dossiers, included granting subsidies for peasants, reforming food distribution networks , and reducing taxes on agriculture.

By the end of 2007, the output of food productions had exceeded 500 billion kilograms.

It is said that in 2008, the government will boost its investments in pig farming by 250 billion yuan; funding that will be channeled to developing large-scale breeding projects. The extra funding has already begun this year when the government granted various allowances to farmers.

Based on official Ministry of Finance's statistics, the government has spent 391.7 billion yuan on the "three agriculture problems" this year, a 15.3 percent increase when compared to 2006. According to sources, next year's budget allocation for agriculture is expected to reach new heights yet again.

Ironically, many Chinese farmers have already abandoned agriculture as their main source of income. Xu Xiaoqing, deputy chief of the Rural Economy Research Unit under the State Council's Development Research Center, says research done by his team last year revealed that nearly half of the rural workforce also work in non-agricultural areas for income.

The research, which is based on data samples from 17 provinces and 2,749 villages, also discovered that about one fifth of the rural workforce had left their land to be based long-term in cities working in non-agricultural jobs. This, they say, has led in an increase in peasant income.

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