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News Analysis: China seeks new growth by modernizing agriculture

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BEIJING, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- China will tap into its vast rural regions and large rural population next year in an effort to inject new vitality into a slowing economy.

A national rural work conference that concluded Tuesday delivered the message that the government will push forward agricultural modernization in order to spur economic growth, adjust the economic structure and improve people's livelihood.

China's expansive countryside remains underdeveloped compared to richer urban regions in terms of infrastructure. Zheng Fengtian, a professor of agricultural studies at Renmin University, said the government will continue to speed up investment in rural regions, covering areas such as water facilities and public services infrastructure.

Data showed China's investment in rural regions first topped one trillion yuan (163 billion U.S. dollars) in 2011. Authorities have vowed to increase investment next year, no matter how tight the government budget is.

"During an economic slowdown, I think agriculture could be an area to use some stimulus programs because they will ensure steady production and a rise in farmers' incomes, which is also conducive to nurturing the rural market and expanding domestic consumption," Zheng said.

Top policymakers at the meeting said that the modernization drive will help unleash farmers' consumption potential and spur investment in rural infrastructure, adding a growing agricultural sector will nurture new sectors, new business models, and fresh momentum for growth.

Analysts said the country will advance the agricultural sector through integration with other industries, such as processing, storage, logistics, and e-commerce.

Zheng said that some rural regions could explore more business models, such as product processing and tourism development.

Compared to the increasingly saturated e-commerce market in urban regions, online business in the countryside remains at a low level. However, this gap is expected to narrow due to a huge rural population and easier access to the Internet.

Experts forecast the rural e-commerce market will top 460 billion yuan (75 billion U.S. dollars) by 2016 in terms of online sales, and will exceed consumption by urbanites in as few as 10 years.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba announced in October that it will invest 10 billion yuan over the next three to five years to build 1,000 operating centers in county seats and up to 100,000 service outlets in villages in order to expand its presence in the rural market.

According to the most recent national population census released in 2011, rural regions are home to more than 674 million residents.

The nation's drive to modernize agriculture and seek new growth comes as the sector faces growing challenges, such as rising agricultural production costs, a labor shortage and more constraints on water and land resources due to overdevelopment.

The country must put agricultural development on a sustainable path by transforming development patterns, raising yields, and using resources efficiently, according to analysts.

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