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Chinese farmers upset by rising rice imports

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WUHAN, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Veteran farmer Fu Huoshan is expecting another bumper rice harvest this year, which is adding to the 70-year-old's anxieties amid sluggish rice sales.

"The harvest will come soon, but the stock from last year's harvest has barely been sold and the price of rice has continued to fall," said Fu, a farmer in Huangmei County, central China's Hubei Province.

Jiang Xin, general manager of Hubei Jiangshan Grain and Oil Co. Ltd., said sales of local rice have fallen as a result of last year's surging rice imports.

Due to price advantages for rice imported from Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam, rice from these countries currently holds a 40-percent share in Hubei's rice market, said Jiang.

His company was forced to halt half of the machines in its grain mill amid weak demand.

On Hubei's grain market, the price of Vietnamese rice averages 3.14 yuan (0.5 U.S. dollars) per kilogram, and rice from Pakistan sells for 3.4 yuan per kg on average. In comparison, local rice products are priced between 3.8 yuan and 4 yuan per kg on average.

Aside from his concerns about sales, Fu has no place to store whatever he reaps in his bumper harvest, as roughly 5,000 kg of rice harvested last year is still in one of his rooms.

Statistics from the China National Grain and Oil Information Center show that the country's rice imports soared 190 percent year on year in the first quarter to hit 692,000 tonnes.

Last year, China, the world's largest grain consumer, imported 2.3 million tonnes of grain, marking the greatest import volume since 2000.

In addition to price concerns, recent reports of a scandal involving tainted rice in central China's Hunan Province have turned many domestic consumers off of Chinese rice.

Deng Gansheng, chief agronomist with the Hubei Provincial Agricultural Department, said the rising rice imports will force many small and uncompetitive grain producers out of the market. However, China's big and medium-sized grain firms will be able to meet the challenges.

He also pointed out that most farm work in the countryside is currently carried out by people over the age of 50, as people in the younger generations have moved to cities to find better paying jobs. Sluggish rice sales could result in many farmers, especially the older ones, giving up farming for good.

"I will sell the field to others if the grain price remains sluggish," said Fu's neighbor Gui Haisi, 66.

China has set its rice import quota at 5.32 million tonnes. Compared with last year's import volume, there is still a lot of room for more growth in imports.

The country is likely to mark its tenth consecutive year of reaping a bumper harvest of summer grain crops in 2013, the Ministry of Agriculture forecast Monday.

The ample market supply will continue to keep rice prices down, further squeezing farmers' profits.

To boost the competitiveness of domestic rice, Cheng Guoqiang, a researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council, China's cabinet, has advised the central government to increase grain subsidies and help reduce obstacles in the grain transportation and distribution sectors.

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