BEIJING, March 10 (Xinhua) -- Despite annual increases in agricultural output over the past nine years, national lawmakers and political advisors still call for more measures to boost agricultural production and ensuring the country's grain security.
Affected by the shrinking amount of agricultural land area, weather-related disasters and a decrease in the rural labor force, the possibility of grain output reduction is rising, said Shang Jinsuo, a deputy to the 12th National People's Congress (NPC), the national legislature.
During the ongoing annual sessions of the NPC and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body, Chinese leaders have urged the acceleration of constructing socialist new countryside and modernizing agriculture.
China's grain output rose 3.2 percent year on year to a hit a record-high 590 million tonnes in 2012, marking the ninth consecutive year of growth.
However, official customs figures show that the country's grain imports also hit a record high of 72.3 million tonnes last year, which is evidence of a strained balance between domestic grain supply and demand.
The country's grain self-sufficiency rate fell to 97.7 percent last year from 99.2 percent in 2011, although the rate remains well above the basic self-sufficiency line of 95 percent, according to experts.
"It is a rare achievement to have had good harvests for the past nine straight years, but we should be more aware of the potential crisis behind it," said Qin Boyong, a CPPCC National Committee member.
Qin pointed out problems such as the lack of large-scale grain production in rural areas and inadequate investment in agricultural infrastructure facilities.
Chinese farmers "own" farmland through collectives, often a village committee, which distributes land-use rights to farmers through long-term deals under a household contract responsibility system introduced in the late 1970s.
Due to rapid industrialization and urbanization, the country's agricultural and rural development have entered "a new stage" and various challenges have emerged, including higher production costs, rising demand for farm produce and the influx of the rural labor force into cities.
China's first policy document for 2013, dubbed the No. 1 central policy, stated that the government will create policies to speed up rural land transfers and offer more subsidies for family farms and farming cooperatives in an effort to develop large-scale farming.
The reforms have already been implemented in many rural areas.
In Huaiyuan County, east China's Anhui Province, former farmer Zhang Xiaohong is now a technician in charge of a workshop of the Xintai Grain and Edible Oil Company.
Last year, Zhang and more than 100 households rented their 333-hectares of farmland to the company. Since then, 180 farmers have taken jobs with the company.
"I used to plant the farmland and take care of my children by myself. I was very busy. Now, my family's annual income is more than 50,000 yuan, which includes my monthly salary of 3,000 yuan and the land rental fee," she said. (50,000 yuan is equal to about 7,955 U.S. dollars.)
The changes in Zhang's village exemplify the ongoing rural reforms.
Huang Wenming, a farmer in Changshan Village, Dehui City in northeast China's Jilin Province, said he has earned 6,000 yuan more than previous years since he joined a local farmers cooperative two years ago, which provides members with rice seeds and farming guidance.
The number of farmers cooperatives in Jilin reached 30,000 in 2012, up 37 percent year on year, and nearly half of the rural households have joined cooperatives, whose services can boost grain output and farmers' income.
The cooperatives should cooperate with each other to better develop the local economy, said Ren Kejun, an NPC deputy and senior agricultural official of Jilin.
The country will "support the development of various forms of new farmers cooperatives and multi-level commercial organizations that provide agricultural services, and it will gradually establish a new type of system of intensive agricultural operations that are specialized, well-organized and commercialized," Premier Wen Jiabao said in the government work report delivered at the opening of the annual session of the NPC on March 5.
"The reform and innovation in rural operations, which touch upon fundamental issues related to agriculture and farmers, will bring significant changes to agricultural production," said Han Jun, a rural studies researcher with Tsinghua University.
The moves are of great importance to ensuring grain security and raising farmers' income, he said.
However, Li Liancheng, an NPC deputy and secretary of the Communist Party of China branch committee in Xixinzhuang Village, Henan Province, urged that land transfers be carried out carefully.
"Some big companies in cities go to rural areas to rent farmland. But companies always pursue their vested interests. I doubt all companies will focus on planting crops," said Li.
Li, a rural representative, proposed that the central government lay out policies to support the development of more professional farmers.
Vice Minister of Agriculture Yu Xinrong said the country will also invest more in agricultural technologies to boost output.