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Party chief prods city officials to upgrade rural development

CITY government needs to create an effective plan to expand development into rural and suburban areas and improve the lives of farm families, Shanghai's Party secretary said yesterday, adding that the effort is key to the city's future.

The call to action was delivered by Party Secretary Yu Zhengsheng during an address to the Shanghai Committee of the Communist Party of China at the end of a two-day session.

Yu told top local officials they need to begin immediate efforts to improve the economic environment facing the city's nearly 2 million rural and suburban residents and to do a better job equalizing the quality of life between the city's hinterlands and its downtown.

He called on the government to provide more support for farmers and related service industries, and to formulate policies encouraging other industries to expand outside the downtown and into less-populated areas.

He also urged improvements to infrastructure that would benefit farm communities, such as better highways and more bus routes, and he called for improved health and welfare benefits and upgraded schools for rural communities.

"Stepping up efforts to achieve integrated social and economic development between the urban and rural areas is key to Shanghai's long-term development," Yu said.

Comprising 600 square kilometers, Shanghai's urban districts cover only 10 percent of the city's total land area. Shanghai is home to nearly 20 million residents but only 2 million live in rural and suburban districts such as Fengxian, Jinshan, Nanhui and Minhang and Chongming County. And only about 590,000 of these rural residents are now making a living by farming.

The incomes of Shanghai farmers have improved 10 percent annually for five consecutive years, reaching 11,400 yuan (US$1,667) last year. But the gap between urban and rural residents is increasing. Wage earners downtown averaged 26,700 yuan last year.

Meanwhile, many industries located in the urban core are experiencing development problems because of their location in high-density areas with soaring labor and production costs and a deteriorating economy. But the vast amount of rural land provides a base for ensuring Shanghai's expansion goals, Yu said.

To encourage the development of the suburbs, decision makers need to take a comprehensive view in economic, industrial and infrastructure planning, and they must reduce barriers, such as road tolls and lack of bus transport, that separate the rural population from their urban counterparts, Yu said.

Yu said local government should take bolder steps to raise farming efficiency and concentrate on introducing advanced technologies for agricultural production.

"We should go all out to attract talent in advanced farming technology and management to work in Shanghai," he said.

Officials were also told they should spare no effort in helping farmers and villages boost their agriculture-based service economy, which is also a way to create jobs.

The local government plans to help farmers double their incomes by 2020 from last year's figure, but it admits the ongoing economic turndown makes the goal especially challenging.

Yu also called on district government officials to investigate the difficulty farmers face in obtaining financing and improve policies that provide low-cost loans and allowances to them.

Shanghai residents consume nearly 5 million tons of grains each year, and 20 percent of the supply comes from local farmlands, covering nearly 107,000 hectares.


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