With China’s new Fourth Generation leadership now in full control of the government this is a good time to look at what the new leadership’s agricultural policies will be.

At the First Session of the 10th National People’s Congress in Beijing last month China’s Minister of Agriculture, Du Qinglin, and Chen Xiwen, the deputy director of the Development Research Centre of the State Council, talked about China’s farming sector.

They started off, naturally, praising the achievements of the last five years and noting that the average income of China’s farmers increased by 3.8% per annum over the period with a 4.8% rise in 2002. Though this is officially true it is also true that farmers are complaining bitterly, and increasingly vocally, about the income gap between the countryside and the cities. Hence a new drive to reduce the tax burden on farmers and the extension of the fee-to-tax reforms which, the government claims, have reduced farmers’ economic burdens by over 30% in general.

The reforms to the sector are expected to continue with a closer examination of whether or not to increase the production of certain crops while reducing the acreage of other crops in order to raise overall quality and farmers’ margins.

It is also true, and acknowledged by the ministry of agriculture, that China still has too many farmers. The shift of surplus labour forces from the countryside to the cities and non-agricultural production will have to continue and this may lead to some further loosening of the rules governing migrant workers.

The officials are keen to demonstrate that China is increasingly subject to global agricultural conditions– for instance, the global decrease of grain output is leading to a sharp rise in prices and China is consequently exporting more food grains than it imports at present, though they believe this to be a temporary situation.

Food safety is another major theme of the new leadership with the planned introduction of new projects to ensure public hazard-free agricultural products and GM foods.