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New govt tests first major reform in agriculture

Xinhua

BEIJING - The State Council, or China's cabinet, on Wednesday rolled out its first major reform in agriculture since inauguration, experimenting schemes to accelerate modern agriculture.

The new government considered the development of modern agriculture "an important strategic mission" that will sustain economic growth, increase income for farmers and improve people's well-being, according to a statement issued by the State Council after an executive meeting presided over by Premier Li Keqiang.

Regions where conditions permit will be picked to carry out the pilot program involving nine major tasks to boost modern agriculture through comprehensive and coordinated agricultural reforms.

The experiments in agriculture are restricted only in Heilongjiang Province, one of the country's top grain production regions in northeast China, according to the statement.

Large-scale farming  in different forms will be supported by the government, as farmers are encouraged to grow their joint partnership, family farms or cooperatives at a time when most rural young and middle-aged labor force are leaving the countryside and seek job opportunities in cities.

The government has pledged deeper reforms in rural land management system to speed up the transfer of rural land to improve efficiency and promote large-scale commercial farming.

The seizure of collectively owned rural land will be subject to strict management, according to the statement. Most rural land in China is owned collectively by a village, and farmers get contractual rights over some plots.

As part of the pilot comprehensive agricultural reforms, the government also vowed to improve financial services in rural areas, increase compensation for major grain-producing regions, boost agriculture-related technological innovation, enhance the supervision over food safety and push forward the integration of rural and urban areas.

"The pilot program marks the beginning of major economic reforms to be taken by the new government," said Cheng Guoqiang, a researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council. "The new government has the determination to press ahead with major reforms."

When meeting Chinese and foreign press for the first time as Chinese premier two weeks ago, 57-year-old Li Keqiang pledged to deepen comprehensive reforms in the world's second-largest economy as the country is seeking new momentum for development other than its large workforce.

Known for calling reform "the biggest dividend for China," Li has said at the press conference he sees "great space" for further unleashing productivity through reform.

"However deep the water may be, we will wade into it because we have no alternative," he has said.

The State Council's experiments in agriculture come as some economists say the Chinese economy has reached a stage where reforms must be accelerated urgently as the demographic dividend, defined as a large proportion of the workforce in the entire population, is starting to dwindle sharply in the country.

"All those tasks, whether regarding the agricultural production and management or the rural land, have underscored the critical challenges facing China's rural areas," Cheng said, "we are now at a moment that need changes in rural areas."

In carrying out the experiments in Heilongjiang alone, Cheng noted, the new government has adopted an "active and safe" attitude.

"If the pilot program succeeds in Heilongjiang, the government will of course extend similar reforms across the country step by step," he said, "even if the experiments fail, the risks are controllable."