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Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 18:05 GMT
Chinese farmers face bleak future
Chinese farmer pushing cart (picture: Charis Dunn-Chan)
Globalisation casts a long shadow over poor farmers
As China's membership of the World Trade Organisation looms, the old, largely organic, agricultural methods long practised by its 900 million farmers and rural dwellers are under siege.

Some Chinese analysts say farmers do not have the land rights, the means to raise capital or the freedom from party mismanagement to compete with the rest of the world.

China's agriculture is already unsustainable

Wen Tiejun
Chemical fertilizers, improved seed strains and the big business approach to marketing in the richer nations are pushing traditional farmers towards what some have described as a new agricultural dark age.

The Chinese media appears to agree. Reform journals have carried lengthy, but usually downbeat, analyses on what can be done to rescue farmers from a cycle of debt and mass migration off the land.

Senior rural economist Wen Tiejun wrote in a recent economic daily that the floor - or cost - prices of key farm products had already exceeded ceiling prices on the international market.

Farming 'unsustainable'

He noted that in 14 of China's 27 provinces and regions, land acreage per capita was at such a low level that only subsistence was possible.

Government agricultural polices had been exhausted, he said. "China's agriculture is already unsustainable."

farmer in field near Guilin
Southern China: way of life under threat
The president of the Chinese Land Economy Society and expert on rural issues, Du Runsheng, called for urgent legislation on land ownership and rights.

He said clarification of land rights was essential for handling land as a capital resource. Some farmers would stay on the land and should be able to borrow against its value. Others, he said, would have to leave the land and make a living elsewhere.

But farmers would not invest in their land without the security of ownership, he noted.

Rural cadres blamed

Inefficient and corrupt management of rural development have also been highlighted in the media. Corrupt and inept rural cadres came under fire.

Vice-President Hu Jintao has launched a new rural ideology drive with extensive media coverage. The campaign has the aim of stopping local officials using their neighbourhoods like feudal fiefdoms to be bullied and fleeced at will.

Hu told cadres "to strengthen their concept of wholeheartedly serving the people, enhance their ability to lead the peasant masses to restructure and develop the rural economy... and enhance their awareness of persisting in `tackling things firmly with both hands'."

Too many people, too little land

The media has also flagged up a third, and seemingly intractable problem for farmers - surplus labour.

Subsistence farmers in Sichuan (picture: Charis Dunn-Chan)
Subsistence farmers in Sichuan are cut off from the market
Wen Tiejun, of China's Rural Economic Research Centre predicted that up to 500 million peasants would be surplus to requirements.

For China, the big issue is what to do with farmers with no future on the land.

Wen Tiejun argued that the crisis might be partly defused if the government gave weight to the democratic and civil rights of farmers.

"We must put emphasis on the basic rights that a farmer is entitled to as a citizen," he wrote in a Guangdong paper. "It is up to the farmer to do things he wants to do within the jurisdiction of the law."

He called for big infrastructure projects, new town building and westward migration to mop up surplus labourers, all of which would take time, planning and huge resources.

Nowhere in the press does anyone offer any easy answers.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

05 Dec 00 | Business
WTO China talks enter home stretch
15 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
March against China banana tax
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