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China expects further rural reform to benefit farmers

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BEIJING, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) -- Since China's first experiments in household contract system 35 years ago, the country's rural reform has accelerated, with more detailed and far-reaching plans expected to be rolled out this week.

As the foundation of China's economic development, agricultural development maintained steady growth in 2013 despite floods and drought challenges, with annual grain output totaling 601.9 billion kilograms, up 2.1 percent year on year and marking the tenth year of consecutive growth.

Meanwhile, farmers are expected to see their per capita income grow by a bigger margin this year than that of urban residents for the fourth consecutive year as new agricultural businesses boom and rural land circulation speeds up.

China aims to double farmers' income by the end of 2020 compared with that of 2010, according to Agricultural minister Han Changbin in early December.

More efforts will be made to develop specialized agriculture, expand employment choices, offer more preferential policies and facilitate property rights reform to meet the target, Han said.

Next year, China will safeguard national food security and continue to pursue the sustainable development of agriculture with enhanced production capacity and more introduction of science and technology, according to the statement from mid-December's Central Economic Work Conference, which mapped out economic plans for 2014.

Meanwhile, rural reform was outlined as a key area in China's reform package released last month, with more progress expected to be made in construction land use, urbanization and giving farmers more property rights.

Under the central government's calling for overall rural reform, local governments has been pushing forward reform in rural areas in line with regional resources and industrial advantages.

In Anhui Province, where rural reform took its first step, farmers in 20 pilot towns have been allowed to circulate homestead and use public construction site for industrial purpose; while farmers in east China's Jiaxing city could mortgage their homesteads for new apartments and farmland for endowment insurance.

However, challenges remain for rural process. Growing grain consumption demand as well as resource and environment restraints have led to a tight grain supply and demand balance, and a rigid household and property rights system stems the improvement of farmers' social and financial conditions.

Land production capacity is key to grain supply and should be improved by ensuring more gains for grain farmers, said Dang Guoying, an agricultural expert with China Academy of Social Sciences.

China's rural reform started in 1978 with its reform and opening up campaign, with the introduction of the household contract responsibility system in rural areas, then it progressed to promote industrial operation of agriculture in late 1980s and has been focusing on overall reform to build a new socialist countryside since 1998.

Unlike the bottom-up rural reform 35 years ago, today's rural progress needs more top-down planning, Wang Weiguo, a law professor with China University of Political Science and Law.

Specific laws should be released to facilitate rural reform, and property rights registration and exchange platforms should be improved, Wang added.

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