Thursday, February 2, 2012

OK Everybody, Innovate!

Since 2004, China's central authorities have annually issued a "Number 1 Document" stating rural policy priorities for the year. These documents state general policy directions for agriculture with few specifics. Each one tends to emphasize a different theme.

This year's "Number 1 Document" covers a lot of different topics and doesn't seem to contain anything new, but its chief emphasis is on technology and "innovation." Innovation (创新) is a word thrown around a lot in China but it's not clear what it means. The document's title is (loosely translated), "Ideas on Pushing Forward Agricultural Science and Technology Innovation to Continue Increasing Agricultural Production Capacity." Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu, commenting on the document, said that agricultural science and technology is indispensable, noting that S&T accounted for 54.5% of growth in agricultural output.

The document starts off by emphasizing production, reflecting the government's worry about food security. It calls for keeping grain planted area stable and raising yields, working toward achieving the 550 million metric ton grain production target. The document calls for taking seriously the "governors rice bag responsibility system" (which requires each province to make sure its grain needs are met) and the "mayors' vegetable basket responsibility system" (which requires city authorities to make sure vegetable, fruit and meat supplies are adequate). The next paragraph calls for more spending and subsidies for agriculture. There are no new subsidy programs; it calls for maintaining and expanding the many existing subsidy programs and doing a better job of monitoring where funds go. Two additional paragraphs emphasize measures to improve rural financial services and clarification and stronger protection of land rights.

The second section of the document focuses on technology. It calls for a focus on the long-term, cutting-edge technology and basic research, pushing back the frontiers of research and taking a prominent place in the world. It calls for the usual generalities like mechanization, improved breeds/varieties, water-saving irrigation, ecological methods, processing and storage, farming in oceans.

One paragraph calls for marshaling research institutes, universities, and companies to focus on agricultural research and extension. There will be more support for research, including an agricultural science and technology fund, a seed industry fund, and "guiding" financial institutions to make loans. There will be more agricultural demonstration areas and agricultural science industrial parks. Schools and research institutes are encouraged to set up experimental farms.

The seed industry is singled out for support. The document wants to nurture a set of big seed-breeding companies, consolidate the seed industry through mergers and acquisitions, "raise the threshold" for entering the industry, strengthen intellectual property rights, and improve seed production bases.

The document also devotes several paragraphs to improvements of the extension system and other means of providing public services to farmers. This includes the usual public extension services, TV programs, etc., as well as involvement of educational institutions and a paragraph on encouraging cooperatives and farmer associations to serve as intermediary organizations to bring services to farmers, and something called "expert courtyards."

Agricultural education and training gets a whole section in the document. More support for schools, universities, and institutes. University students will be sent to serve as rural officials and to work in western China.

Two other big sections call for more investment in agricultural infrastructure and improvements in agricultural marketing.

Minister Han reported that the Ministries of Agriculture and Science and Technology will work on three projects in innovation in science and technology with a focus on crop production. They will work to create a set of breakthrough plant varieties while strengthening the research system. Second, they will work on setting up a grassroots extension system to address the "last kilometer" problem--getting technologies out to the fields. Third, they will nurture agricultural human resources, addressing the problem of "who will farm in the future."

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