Family farms plant seeds for prosperity

Updated: 2013-04-01 07:48

By Xie Yu (China Daily)

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A rough calculation suggests China must reduce the number of agricultural households to 30 million to ensure that rural incomes keep up with those of city dwellers, taking into account the continuous rise in the average urban income, said Dang.

There are about 200 million rural families in China, but that figure is expected to fall to 100 million when the family farm structure matures and around 50 percent of rural families move to the cities.

Family farms plant seeds for prosperity 

  Cao Xinyun (above) and Sun Hongrong run family farms in the Songjiang district of suburban Shanghai. Qiu Haiying / for China Daily

Sun Hongrong hopes the government will extend the length of land-transfer contracts. "A 10-year contract would be ideal," he said.

"Furthermore, if we can contract a larger area of land, it is also good for economies of scale, which is more efficient," he said. Sun is considering employing organic methods on his farm, but the higher added-value requires greater personal input.

However, the length of leases and the scale of family farms remain controversial issues in the pilot scheme.

Although the official guidelines clearly state that only families with rural residence permits, or agricultural hukou, can join the program and fulltime employment of non-family members is forbidden, industry insiders said it is not unusual for city-based companies to enter the program.

"The guidelines are intended to prevent profit-oriented companies from 'stealing' the land by building houses or developing agritourism, and thus threatening the security of the grain supply. However, the laws need to be stringent to prevent unscrupulous companies from finding ways of working in the gray area," said Cheng Cunwang, chairman of Tianyuan Zhengguo Bio-agriculture, an organization that promotes community-supported agriculture in China.

Sun said regulation of family farms is essential to prevent the overuse of land and depletion of nutrients in the soil. It also helps to keep the land free from pollution caused by inappropriate disposal of plastics or the excessive use of fertilizers.

China's grain output rose 3.2 percent year-on-year to hit a record high of 590 million metric tons in 2012, marking the ninth consecutive year of growth. Meanwhile, official customs figures for last year show grain imports hit a record high of 72.3 million tons, providing evidence of an imbalance between domestic supply and demand.

However, that problem could be largely alleviated if the family farm trials are successful. The system could provide greater security for those who depend on the agricultural industry.

"There won't be so many people on the land in the future, but there is no need to worry about it because more young people like Sun Hongrong have started to rethink their lives and careers and are willing to return to the villages," said Xu.

For Sun, his return to the countryside has been an unqualified success: "No one supported me when I decided to quit my job as a sales manager at a feed company four years ago, but I have now convinced almost everybody that I made the right decision."

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