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"Professional farmers" mark new era in Chinese agriculture   2012-08-02 10:49:00

After earning university degrees in electrical engineering and agriculture, Liu Zhongfeng, a 29-year-old son of farmers, decided to leave the city and return to the countryside to become a "professional farmer."

"Today's definition of 'farmer' is quite different from that of my father's generation," said Liu, whose hometown is located in a rural, economically-underdeveloped part of Shandong province.

"In China, 'farmer' was traditionally more like a personal identity because someone was born that way. But for me, I chose 'farmer' as a profession that requires modern, advanced skills," he said.

Liu is one of the 103 "professional farmers" employed by Yonglian village authorities in Zhangjiagang, a city in east China's Jiangsu province. They are in charge of 467 hectares of cultivated land in Yonglian, one of the richest villages in the country.

The village, which has built its wealth on industrial business instead of agricultural production, has about 10,000 rural residents -- or "farmers" in the traditional sense. But they lead lives nearly identical to that of their urban counterparts. Since handing their cropland over to professional farmers, they are no longer engaged in farming.

"My father is one of the traditional farmers. He uses a plow, a rake, a shovel and a sickle to plant crops on a small patch of land that belongs to our family. Our only income is the agricultural output in our own limited land," Liu said.

"But in our grain base in Yonglian, 11 people manage 133 hectares of cropland. We use computers and large machines for irrigating, planting, reaping and drying the crops. Everything is done in a mechanized way," he said.

"We ensure grain supply for the whole village and we get salaries from the village authorities every month."

Among the 103 professional farmers employed by Yonglian, one-third have college education. The others include machine workers and experienced traditional farmers, said Wu Huifang, vice head of the Communist Party Committee of Yonglian village.

In addition to the grain base, the village has a seedling base, a flower base, an aquaculture base and an agricultural garden for leisure and sightseeing. Professional farmers have also been hired to oversee all of these bases.

"The difference is that (the professional farmers in other bases) must know about farming as well as marketing," Wu said.

The advent of professional farmers, like Liu and his colleagues, is closely linked with the progress made by China's endeavors to push for agricultural modernization over recent years.

China introduced a household contract responsibility system in rural areas in the late 1970s, greatly emancipating productive forces in the countryside, but the farming pattern of the small-scale peasant economy and the meager income from croplands could hardly attract the younger generation of farmers.

Meanwhile, more and more people are leaving rural areas to seek jobs in cities, with the number of migrant workers topping 250 million as of the end of 2011, 139 million more than that of 2003, government statistics show.

Therefore, the lack of a labor force and an aging population have become prominent issues in rural China.

According to a newly published survey in east China's Anhui province, which initiated the household contract responsibility system, 80 percent of the new generation of migrant farmer workers have not mastered basic farming skills, 38 percent have no farming experience at all and more than 90 percent would prefer to stay in big cities.

Workers' preferences for the city have given rise to questions about who will till the land in the future and who will feed China.

"I think we must use professional farmers and promote a large-scale farming system and mechanized production, as well," said Feng Xingquan, board chairman of the Ruifeng Agricultural Development Co. Ltd. in Jiangsu.

The company has leased 1,333 hectares of cropland from local farmers in Shiji township, Sihong county, to practice large-scale farming, he said.

All of Sihong's township authorities have planned to centralize their cropland to create conditions for large-scale farming and agricultural modernization, said Zhou Landong, an official with Shiji township.

"But the adjustment to the mode of production does not change the existing household contract responsibility system. The land still belongs to the state and the farmers still retain land management rights," Zhou said.

"The farmers have their cropland centralized and authorize professional companies to manage it," he said.

Premier Wen Jiabao pointed out in March that the central government will provide better supervision and services for the transfer of contracted land-use rights and develop farming operations on an appropriately large scale.

"We will support large-scale farming through specialized farm cooperatives and leading enterprises, encourage various sectors to provide services for agriculture, develop agricultural insurance and increase commercialization and specialization efforts in agriculture," Wen said in his government work report at the annual parliamentary session.

The practice of transferring contracted land-use rights -- like in Yonglian and Sihong -- have also been tried in other provinces, and Jiangsu took the lead in the drive because it has relatively better agricultural and economic conditions.

Meanwhile, local governments in China have been increasingly aware of the significance of fostering professional farmers like Liu Zhongfeng when pushing for agricultural modernization.

Defining and certifying professional farmers remains a blurry business, said Tian Yubin, deputy director of the Jiangsu Provincial Science and Technology Education Training Center for Farmers.

"But they have already become the new blood of Chinese agricultural development, and the trend toward professional farming is inevitable," he said.


source : Xinhua     editor:: Diana
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