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Modernization of agriculture and villages to gather pace

WEI HOUKAI | 2020-12-02 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


Presently, the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects and winning the battle against poverty is about to be achieved. China's modernization is inseparable from agricultural and rural modernization. Since 1949, China's rural economic development has had following phases and experience.

Development stages
The reform and opening up in 1978 was a watershed event for China's rural economic development. The academic circle still debates how to divide development stages in China's rural areas from 1984 through the present. The year 2002 serves as an important node in which the priority of rural reformative development moved from rural construction toward a balance between urban and rural areas. Therefore, China’s rural economy since 1949 has undergone three development stages featuring collectivization (1949-1978), marketization trend (1979-2002), and urban-rural integration (2003 to present). 
The collectivized development stage began around the 1950s, when there was a radical inequality in rural people's land ownership. To improve the situation, the Agrarian Reform Law of the People's Republic of China was implemented on June 30, 1950. After that, massive land reforms took place in such new liberated regions as eastern, southwestern and northwestern  China. National grain output grew by 44.8% between 1949 and 1952. 
In 1953, the central government put forward a roadmap for the transition period—after the fundamental tasks of land reform had been fulfilled. Completing socialist industrialization and the socialist transformation of agriculture, handcrafts, capitalist industry and commerce was expected to take the country a long time. During this period, the rural economy developed at a slow pace.
Starting from 1978, China entered a new historical period of reform and opening up and socialist modernization, and this is referred to as the market-oriented development stage. China's reforms started in the countryside. From 1979 to 2002, its rural reforms were concentrated within rural areas, focusing on giving rural people more autonomy in management, to push marketized reforms in multiple fields based on a sharpened rural basic management system. 
During this period, several factors provide immense support to and institutional security for the rural economy, including the establishment of a two-tier management system that combined centralized and decentralized management on the basis of household contractual management, the rise of township enterprises, and reforms to pricing and circulation fields.  
These marketized reforms activated farmers' tremendous enthusiasm for production, stimulated rural developmental vigor, and effectively boosted the rural economy. From 1979 through 2002, the disposable income per capita of rural households increased by 7.3% each year, an increase rate 0.6 percentage points higher than that of urban households.
Since 2003, China's rural development has moved into a new stage featuring urban-rural integration fueled by the deepening of reform and opening up, and the urbanization process. The country launched into building socialist new villages, poverty alleviation, and a rural vitalization strategy. It introduced a wide range of favorable policies targeting rural people, including the abolition of agricultural taxes and improvement of agricultural support and protection systems. Rural economic development broadened its scope as it started to deal with urban-rural relations. Its central tasks included comprehensive deepening of rural reforms, adjustment of the national income distribution structure, increasing rural people’s income, poverty reduction, urban-rural integration and coordination. 
During this period, rural people's incomes sustained a rapid growth, and rural poverty reduction work achieved outstanding results. From 2003 to 2019, the disposable income of rural households per capita raised by 8.2% each year, an increase rate 0.3 percentage points higher than that of urban households.
Achievements and experience
Today, China's agricultural economy signals sustainable growth, the agricultural industry structure has undergone constant optimization, and the integration of primary, secondary, and tertiary industries has gained momentum. Meanwhile, agricultural technology and equipment have made great strides, and profound changes have taken place in agricultural production methods. 
In 1949, the country's contribution rate of sci-tech progress in agriculture was under 20%, and it reached 27% in the early stage of the reform and opening up. By 2019, the metric surged to 59.2%. Regarding farming production methods, in most cases, animal and human power has been replaced by labor-saving machinery. Recently, the comprehensive mechanization rate of crop cultivation and harvest in China exceeded 70%, while its mechanization rate in the agricultural sector was 19.7% back in 1978.
The rapid development of the agricultural sector and the rural economy has led to a great elevation of rural residents' incomes and living standards. In early years of PRC, Chinese rural residents lived in extreme poverty. In 1949, their per capita net income was 43.8 yuan each year, and in 1952 it was only 57 yuan. From 1978 to 2019, the per capita disposable income of rural residents had skyrocketed from 133.6 yuan to 16,020.7 yuan, a nominal increase of 118.9 times, and on average a real growth rate of 7.67% each year, which was 0.5 percentage points higher than that of urban residents. During this period, the impoverished population across the country shrank by 765 million people, the poverty headcount ratio declined from 97.5% to 0.6%, and about 67% of the achievements made in global poverty reduction came from China. By 2019, rural residents’ Engel coefficient had dropped to 30.0%.
A retrospection of China's rural economic development experience since the founding of PRC has revealed the following aspects.
Food security remains at the top of the agenda. Since the founding of PRC, China has prioritized national food security in economic and social development. It adopted the most stringent farmland protection mechanisms, implemented a series of grain macro-control and supporting policies, and cemented grain production, circulation, and storage.  
Stimulating rural people's enthusiasm also matters. Since 1949, several major events which had great impacts on the rural economy were all rural people's innovative acts. These include: household contract responsibility systems, township enterprises, and villager self-governance. These practices are testament that only by mobilizing rural people's enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity, can the country activate the internal vibrancy of rural economies and achieve successful rural reform and development.
China has prioritized rural and village development as a general policy. Since 1949, the central government has always prioritized agriculture as the national economy's foundation. In the current situation, China should continue to implement this general policy to accelerate the modernization of agriculture and villages, and promote urban-rural common prosperity. It is necessary to strengthen top-down designs and tilt resources to rural areas, such as factor allocation, public services, cadres, support systems, and supporting policies.
Comprehensive deepening of market-oriented rural reforms has also played a major role. Reform and innovation are the primary driving forces for rural economic development. Over the past more than 40 years, practice shows that rural reforms must adopt the framework of a socialist market economy and correctly handle the relationship between the market and the government, and between rural people and land. Meanwhile, the country should consolidate and optimize a basic rural management system, and maintain a stable and enduring rural land contracting relationship. 
China has expanded the role of technology and talent. China for years has attached great importance to agricultural, scientific and technological innovation, and has seen constant increases in scientific research investment. It has established national support systems for agricultural sci-tech innovation and services for technology diffusion. In addition, a massive talent pool targeting issues relating to agriculture, rural areas, and rural people provides intelligent support for developing agriculture and rural areas.
Mid and long-term prospects
Presently, it is urgent for China to accelerate the process of agricultural and rural modernization and speed up the transformation from a major grain producer to a country with great agricultural strength. Modernization of agriculture and rural areas is the overall goal of the rural vitalization strategy. According to the national plan, agricultural and rural modernization will be basically realized by 2035, and rural vitalization will be attained by 2050. 
The freshly concluded fifth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee reiterated the paramount importance of issues relating to agriculture, rural areas, and rural people on the Party's agenda, and clearly advanced a comprehensive implementation of the rural vitalization strategy, bringing a golden opportunity to increase the speed of rural economic development.
However, rural economic development still faces severe challenges. First, the cost of food production continues to rise. Second, China's agricultural production is dominated by a small-scale decentralized model, which is tough to adapt to the needs of agricultural modernization and green transformation. Third, the growth of rural people's income in recent years is increasingly dependent on wage income and net transferred income, while net management income and net property income contribute little. Fourth, with the rapid course of urbanization, numerous rural laborers, especially young and middle-aged laborers with better educational backgrounds and cultural refinement, continue to move to cities and towns, increasing challenges in village layout adjustment and talent vitalization. Fifth, a wide range of existing resources in rural areas still need to be activated.
To modernize agriculture and rural areas at a faster speed, China has three goals on the horizon. China is expected to achieve equitable access to basic public services by 2035. Also, it will keep raising rural people's income levels to narrow the urban-rural income gap. It remains engaged in an arduous mission to bring rural residents' income levels, life standards and general life quality close to those of urban residents. Meanwhile, China will strive to transform itself from a huge food producer to a county featuring advanced agricultural development.  
Wei Houkai is director of and a research fellow from the Rural Development Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Edited by MA YUHONG