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China Stepping into the Period for the Accelerated Development of Its Agricultural Modernization


He Yupeng

Since mid-1990s, the transformation of the traditional agriculture has been notably expedited in China, featuring the accelerated transfer of agricultural labor force and the dramatic improvement of agricultural material and equipment. With the advancement of urbanization and enhancement of agricultural modernization, since the end of the 10th Five-year Plan period, transitional changes began to take place in the relationships between capital and labor input in agriculture, featuring farmer-workers getting equal pay as agricultural employees and the replacement of labor force with machinery becoming economical. Such changes forebode that China's agricultural modernization has entered into the stage of substantial progress. With policy evolvement in retrospect, in 2007, the central government issued the "No.1 Document", putting forward views at the right time on vigorously developing modern agriculture, not only seizing the critical moment for advancing agricultural modernization, but, ever since, systematically continuing the enhancement of the policy system and the supporting measures for developing modern agriculture.

I. Significant Changes Have Taken Place in Agricultural Production Environment, with the Level of Modernization Being Stepped Up Markedly

Since mid-1990s, especially since the end of the 10th Five-year Plan period and the beginning of the 11th Five-year Plan period, the level of China's agricultural modernization measured by mechanization, extensive use of farm chemicals, adequate irrigation and electrification has been constantly improved. And supply of material and equipment has been enriched considerably in terms of the overall environment for agricultural production and the household management of production by farmers. Increase of agricultural production has changed from the increase of acreage of farm lands to the increase of yield per unit area and the capital input has played a leading role in this regard.

(I) Remarkable Progress in Mechanization

After 1993, especially since 1998, the mechanization of agriculture has picked up its pace evidently. In 2008, the total motive power of farm machinery reached 820 million kilowatts, which almost doubled that of 1997 and gave rise to an average increase of 100 million kilowatts every three years. It took only two years from 2006 to 2008 to increase 100 million kilowatts. The number of large and medium-sized tractors reached 2.995 million with a total motive power of 81.865 million kilowatts and the number of small tractors reached 17.224 million with a total motive power of 166.477 million kilowatts. Large and medium-sized tractors developed alternately with small tractors. In 1980, the motive power of large and medium-sized tractors totaled 23.693 million kilowatts and that of small tractors added up to 16.155 million kilowatts. Afterwards, with the implementation of the household contract responsibility system with remuneration linked to output, the motive power of small tractors surpassed that of large and medium-sized tractors, with the highest ratio of motive power being 4.2:1 in 2001. After 2001, large and medium-sized tractors developed rapidly, with the aforesaid ratio of motive power dropping to 2:1 in 2008. Particularly in 2008, the number of large and medium-sized tractors increased by nearly 1 million over the previous year, which was equivalent to 1/3 of all large and medium-sized tractors, and the motive power increased by 20 million kilowatts, amounting to 1/4 of the total motive power of all large and medium-sized tractors. Likewise, the number of combines came to 39,000 in 1990, topped 100,000 in 1997 to 141,000 and reached 743,000 in 2008, increasing by 100,000 on an average within less than 2 years.

Likewise, in terms of the means of production of peasant families, the number of agricultural machinery was constantly on the increase as well. Since the mid- and late 1990s, the manpower and animal power were being replaced with machine power at an accelerated pace. In 2008, the number of draught animals owned every one hundred households reached 26, being less than half of 55.6 in 1997. During the same period, the number of motor vehicles and large and medium-sized tractors owned every hundred households reached 2.0 and 3.1 respectively, which more than doubled.

(II) Ever-increasing Utilization of Farm Chemicals

In 2008, the amount of agricultural fertilizers applied reached 52.39 million tons. The growth of fertilizer input underwent a saddle-shaped change. During 1997~2003, the amount of chemical fertilizers applied increased by an annual average of 720,000 tons, being less than the annual average of 1.99 million tons during 1990~1997. However, since 2004, the amount of fertilizers applied grew rapidly once again. During 2003~2008, the amount of chemical fertilizers applied rose by an annual average of 1.65 million tons. In addition, the amount of agricultural plastic film used reached 2.007 million tons, up by 1.2 times over 1995, and the area of plastic mulch reached 15.308 million hectares, up by 1.4 times over 1995.

In terms of farmers' spending, in 2008, the amount of chemical fertilizers and plastic film purchased by every peasant family reached 649.1 kilos and 5.2 kilos respectively, up by 31.4% and 2.7 times over 1990. At present, the area of the arable lands in China accounts for 1/10 of the world total, yet the amount of fertilizers applied by China makes up 1/4 of the world total, and the amount of fertilizers applied per unit area has come to 2 times that of the developed countries.

(III) Level of Irrigation Steadily on the Increase

In 2008, the effective irrigation area reached 58.47 million hectares, increasing by about 10 million hectares over 1992, making up 48% of the agricultural acreage. After 2004, the construction of water conservancy works accelerated. From 2004 to 2008, the effective irrigation area increased by 3.99 million hectares, with the annual average of increase reaching 1 million hectares or so, accounting for 40% of the increase scored during 1992~2008. In 2008 alone, the irrigation area increased by 1.95 million hectares, making up nearly half of the increases scored in the 4 years.

In terms of the data from peasant families, in 2008, the average effective irrigation area of each rural household came to 1.08 mu, up by 14% as compared with 0.95 mu in 2004, making up 49.5% of the per-capita agricultural acreage, being 2 percentage points higher than in 2004. On the other hand, data indicate that the water-saving irrigation area increased from 16.389 million hectares in 2000 to 24.436 million in 2008, up by 49.1%. In terms of water conservancy works, there is a wider space for the development of irrigation and water-saving agriculture.

(IV) Ever-growing Level of Electrification

In 2008, rural power consumption came to 571.32 billion kilowatt-hours, up by 5.8 times over 1990. During 1990s, the rural power consumption increased by a rough total of 100 billion kilowatt-hours. After entry into the 21st century, the rural power consumption increased by nearly 400 billion kilowatt-hours.

Certainly, sizing up the level of agricultural electrification with rural power consumption is somewhat bombastic and needs to be further identified. In terms of the data available from farmers, power consumption for agricultural production has increased considerably in recent years, showing the constant improvement of the agricultural electrification. In 2008, the production-related average power consumption by every peasant family came to 91.4 kilowatt-hours, up by 56.5% over 2003. In terms of the electromechanical irrigation, the irrigated area reached 39.28 million hectares in 2008, up by 45% over 1990.

(V) Supply of Agricultural Material and Equipment Enhanced Remarkably

The growing agricultural mechanization, farm chemical utilization, irrigation area and electrification reflect the increased input and the improved infrastructure by the government and the enhanced supply of agricultural material and equipment measured by the productive immobilizations of peasant families. Statistics show that productive immobilizations of peasant families reached 6,537.8 yuan in 2008, up by 6.3 times over 1990. In particular, after 2004, supply of agricultural material and equipment to peasant families has been evidently enhanced, with the immobilizations increased by more than 2,000 yuan to an annual average of 520 yuan. Obviously, it has much to do with the policies enforced by the government in recent years to strengthen the support and subsidy to agriculture.


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