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Farmland and chemicals under spotlight to boost supply

Hu Yongqi
Updated: Feb 14,2017 7:31 AM     China Daily

The quality of agricultural goods will be improved by increasing the acreage of well-facilitated farmland, with irrigation facilities and adequate harvest equipment, and strictly limiting the use of chemicals.

Experts believe the move will reduce costs and ensure food safety.

A State Council executive meeting, presided over by Premier Li Keqiang on Feb 8, decided to strictly manage the use of farm chemicals, amid safety concerns, as well as promote well-facilitated farmland.

The State Council, China’s Cabinet, targeted improving farmland quality through promoting intensive plowing, as well as adopting more agricultural machinery and efficient irrigation, a statement released after the meeting said.

The meeting also called for the establishment of a national database to oversee well-facilitated farmland and achieve targeted management goals. Meanwhile, private capital will be encouraged to participate in the building and management of these farms.

In addition, a draft amended regulation to control the use of farm chemicals was approved at the meeting to fight soil contamination by cutting their use. The Ministry of Agriculture was named the sole department to govern this area to avoid overlapping after decades of joint management with several other departments.

Meanwhile, a licensing system will be set up for the production and sale of farm chemicals while fines for breaches, such as unapproved production and sales of counterfeit goods, will be raised.

Well-facilitated farmland refers to large and level tracts of arable and fertile land with facilities, such as irrigation, to withstand adverse natural conditions. Last month, China’s top rural affairs decision-making body-the Office of the Central Leading Group for Rural Work-said the country will invest 600 billion yuan ($87 billion) over the next four years to double the current 26.7 million hectares of farmland categorized as well-facilitated by 2020.

China feeds one fifth of the world’s population with only 7 percent of the planet’s arable land. Compounding the issue is the fact that southern regions have to tackle mountainous terrain and have been suffering drought and floods.

Premier Li has consistently spotlighted agriculture during his domestic tours in rural areas. In August, he stopped along a highway and discussed with local farmers the output and price for rice in Ruijin county in East China’s Jiangxi province, which he believed reflected conditions regarding the food supply for the country as well as farmer’s incomes in general.

These measures will further lower the cost for producing agricultural goods and boost competitiveness as China’s average product per hectare of land has been lower than in developed economies, said Dang Guoying, a researcher in rural development at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Southwest China’s Yunnan province can serve as an example of the urgency to upgrade the agricultural sector as more than three quarters of its land is mountainous and hilly.

Ye Longxin, a 36-year-old farmer in Hekou county in Yunnan, said the decisions on Feb 8 will be beneficial to farmers and the agricultural sector. “Farmland on mountains consumes more time while I’ve faced problems with irrigation, and finding labor for harvest and transport,” he said.

Ye said many people in the county find work in cities or go to coastal areas, which has led to an increase in the price of labor-at least 200 yuan a day. “What’s worse is that I found it hard even to find labor in peak seasons of sowing or harvest. If the government can provide help to build better-quality land, I will applaud it,” Ye said.

Meanwhile, the supply of high-end and healthy agricultural products lags behind consumer demand as the middle-class grows rapidly. Currently, many high-quality products are imported from Western economies, while domestic products have an inventory surplus.

High-standard farmland and farm chemicals will be improved because they are also key to ensuring the country’s food safety, Dang said. “High costs can be reduced when average production is raised with better farmland facilities and the use of perilous chemicals constrained,” he said.

“We cannot import all our food from other countries. This is a national security issue,” Dang added.