|CERES No. 105/109 - October 1985 (FAO Ceres, 1985, 50 p.)|
"We can only proceed... from the realities of our country..."
For years, many developing countries have looked toward China for ideas and inspiration in combatting the problems of poverty and underdevelopment. Does your awareness of being this kind of model influence the way you make adjustments and changes in your economy and your society?
The great challenge New China has faced since its founding is the fight against poverty and underdevelopment, thereby changing the backwardness left behind by Old China. We have made great efforts to accomplish this task for more than three decades. Particularly since 1979, we have carried out major reforms in our rural economic system, by implementing various forms of contracted responsibility systems for production with remuneration linked to output. As a result, the farmers' initiative for production has been stimulated and agricultural production has effectively advanced. Generally speaking, we are now able to provide one billion Chinese people with adequate food and clothing. But owing to uneven economic development, the peasants in a few areas of the country still live in relatively difficult conditions.
In the countryside, while upholding public ownership of the basic means of production, such as land, we continue to perfect the household responsibility system for production, to reform the policy of mandatory procurement of farmers' agricultural produce, and to restructure the rural economy vigorously. Our approach is to pursue the development of a diversified rural economy without letting up on our efforts to produce more foodgrains, gradually to form a rural economy in which there will be a well balanced development of crop farming, forestry, animal husbandry, fishery and sideline occupations and an integrated management of agriculture, industry and commerce, making possible the rational use of rich natural resources and manpower in the rural areas. In so doing, we encourage the farmers to develop various forms of cooperation and joint ventures on a voluntary basis in production, processing, transportation, marketing, etc., so 'es to bring gradually the cooperative economy in the countryside to perfection. We shall continue to explore the road to socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Each country has its own particular features, different from those of others, and therefore should not copy the experience of any one foreign country. We wish to increase contacts and exchanges with countries all over the world, especially those of the Third World, in order to enhance mutual understanding, to learn from one another and to be complementary in our efforts to develop the rural economy and improve the living standards of the farmers.
The introduction of new economic policies in China's agricultural sector over the past six years-what has been called the responsibility system-has attracted worldwide attention. Is this a form of evolution that has now run its course, or can we expect to see further changes and adjustments in the years ahead? If the latter, what form are they likely to take?
The contracted responsibility system with remuneration linked to output was a creation of the farmers themselves in practice. It succeeded first in the economically backward areas of the countryside, then was extended to economically intermediate and more developed areas. It consisted in a new form of management now generally practiced in the rural areas. It has been able to gain such wide acceptance in the countryside throughout China mainly because it eliminated the drawbacks of too rigid and excessive control in management and administration and the egalitarian distribution of income. This new form not only can embody the guidance of state plans through contracts, but also is consistent with the need for decentralized management in rural areas. It allows farmers to learn and use advanced agricultural science and technology, adopt better management methods for increasing production and improve cost-effectiveness. It also better embodies the socialist principle of distribution - "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work" - and allows the farmers' initiative for developing production to come into full play, making it possible for them to increase their incomes in a relatively short time. This policy is therefore in the interest of the farmers, and is acceptable to them and will continue to be pursued. It is only natural that the contracted responsibility system should be further perfected and that some adjustments may have to be made. From now on, we shall give priority to developing various services for agricultural production, setting up joint enterprises in a variety of forms, gradually shaping a system of socialized and specialized division of work, exerting great efforts to raise productivity in agriculture, so as to promote the development of a commodity economy in rural areas and the modernization of agriculture.
Previous policies in China have placed emphasis on ensuring that certain basic needs, including food, were provided to all. How have the new economic policies affected food security at the household level?
Grain production in China has recorded a significant increase in recent years. Per caput output of grain has reached approximately 400 kg, nearing the world average. But compared to the level attained by developed countries, there is still a considerable gap. With the development of the food processing industry, livestock and fish raising, the requirements for grain will increase. Therefore, the problem of increasing grain production still calls for great efforts.
In the past we followed a policy of mandatory state procurement and monopolized marketing of major agricultural products, including grains. That policy played a positive role, in ditions of inadequate supplies, in ensuring-the livelihood of the people. Now the situation has changed and more grain is available. Therefore, starting from this year, we have discarded the old system and adopted the policy of placing orders by way of contracts and procuring on the market. The State signs contracts with farmers to purchase fixed amounts of their produce at favourable prices. After fulfilling their contracts, farmers are free to sell their remaining products on the market. If the market prices are too low, the State guarantees purchase at prices originally fixed for mandatory procurement, so as to protect the incentives for farmers to grow grain crops. After introducing these reforms, the policy of supplying urban consumers with food rations at subsidized prices remains in force. The State will continue to guarantee the supply of food rations to the farmers and herdsmen who do not grow foodcrops. As for victims of natural calamities, the State will continue to provide them with emergency relief. Through all these measures, the State guarantees the supply of foodgrains to the entire population.
One of the tasks that has been indicated for China in the years ahead is the shifting of very large numbers of workers from the agricultural sector into other industries. Do you believe that this can be achieved without creating many of the problems of urbanization that have beset other developing countries? How do you propose to go about this?
Following the adoption of the household responsibility system across the country, about one third of the labour force in the countryside became redundant. In order to absorb the surplus labour in appropriate activities and avoid their migration to urban areas in large numbers, we are energetically developing cottage industries and the tertiary sector apart from crop farming and livestock raising. Farmers engaged in these industries will quit tilling but remain in the rural areas. In this way' we can both accelerate the development of agriculture and promote the building up of villages and small towns through infusion of capital, technology and expertise, in order to bring about the synchronized prosperity of the cities and the countryside and gradually narrow the gap in living standards between them. In 1984, the total number of cottage enterprises in China (including joint ventures and industrial enterprises operated by individuals) reached over 6 million with more than 50 million employees, accounting for 14 per cent of the total labour force in the countryside. It is expected that by the turn of the century, those engaged in farming will not exceed one third of the total rural labour force while those engaged in cottage enterprises, forestry, animal husbandry, fishery and the tertiary sector will increase to over two thirds.
How serious a problem is environmental degradation in relation to the productivity of Chinese agriculture?
The problem of environmental degradation in agriculture does exist in China. For example, we have soil erosion, degradation of pastures resulting from overstocking and overgrazing and pollution of the agricultural environment caused by industrial development, etc.
The Government gives serious attention to this problem. We emphasize the rational development and integrated use of agricultural resources in guiding the restructuring of rural economy. At the same time, we have taken effective measures to control and prevent the pollution of the agricultural environment caused by various industries. Steady progress is being made. From now on, we shall go a step further and adopt and perfect laws and regulations for the preservation of the natural environment. In short, we shall persist in our efforts to preserve and improve the ecological environment of China.
Do you have a target figure at which you would want China's population to stabilize and when do you expect that objective would be reached?
China carried out a population census in 1982 which indicated the total population to be 1.030 billion, accounting for more than 22 per cent of the world population. The population problem is a big one in China. Thus, family planning to control the rapid growth of population is a fundamental policy during the period of socialist construction. The birthrate of China has markedly decreased in recent years. The birthrate and natural increase rate dropped from 3.07 per cent and 2.34 per cent in 1971 to 1.79 per cent and 1.17 per cent in 1979. In 1984, they were 1.75 per cent and 1.08 per cent respectively. I believe the planned target of keeping the total population of China within the limit of 1.2 billion by the end of this century can be achieved.
A number of intergovernmental agencies, FAO among them, are now collaborating with your Government in seeking solutions to specific Chinese problems. As far as issues of food and agriculture are concerned, what are the principal benefits you have obtained or hope to obtain from such international cooperation?
China is a developing socialist country. It is in the process of socialist modernization and therefore needs capital, advanced technology and expertise. We are ready to cooperate with foreign countries on the basis of equality and mutual benefit to promote the process of modernization in China. In developing the agriculture of China, we can only proceed from the realities of our country and thus sum up our own experience. But we also would like to draw from the experience of other countries.
In the area of food and agriculture, we maintain good cooperation with FAO, WFP, the World Food Council and IFAD. These organizations have extended various kinds of assistance, and this is helpful for the progress of agricultural science and technology and for the development of agricultural production in China, including food production. I wish to express my appreciation for this assistance on behalf of the Chinese Government and hope such cooperation will further develop in future.