Source: Beijing Review Published: 2019-01-04
Kou Hongyan was laid off from a factory in Beijing 14 years ago. At the time she could hardly imagine that one day she would become a pioneer leading her fellow townspeople in Beijing's western suburbs to shake off poverty and become prosperous.
In her early 40s, Kou had no idea what to do after losing her job in 2005. But her enterprising spirit pushed her to move forward and after serious consideration, she went back to her hometown in Zhaitang Town in Mentougou District and started a rural homestay business with five friends.
In spite of difficulties along the road, her business stabilized and in 2007, Kou established a cooperative to enable more local people to join the business and earn a share. Now there are over 300 people in the cooperative, and the business has expanded to neighboring towns where more farmers reap the benefits.
"Thanks to the country's development and national policy support, farmers like me can make full use of rural resources which were not utilized for years, and find ways to make our lives better, as long as we are willing to put in hard work," she told Beijing Review.
Meeting farmers' needs
Kou is among numerous Chinese farmers who have experienced a transformation. Rural areas and farmers have always been central to the work agenda of the Chinese Government since they directly concern the nation's stability and people's well-being.
In 2018, new achievements were made in rural and agricultural development with a good grain harvest and a good start on rural vitalization, said President Xi Jinping at the Central Rural Work Conference held in Beijing on December 28-29, 2018. The conference planned the country's work related to agriculture, rural areas and rural people.
National food security and an effective supply of important agricultural products were also among 2018's rural undertakings.
Great strides were made in China's poverty alleviation efforts in 2018. According to official statistics, 125 poor counties and 10 million poverty-stricken rural residents were lifted out of poverty. In 2019, the country is expected to see over 10 million rural residents lifted out of poverty as planned.
"Agriculture shouldn't be a backward industry. Instead, it should be an industry that integrates the technological economy, politics and national security. Rural areas should not be synonymous with poverty and underdevelopment. Rather, they should represent picturesque places full of hope where people live and work in peace and contentment," Zhu Xinkai, Vice President of Renmin University of China and deputy head of the Chinese Agricultural Economics Association, told Xinhua.
"What we now face is a contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and people's ever-growing needs for a better life," Xi's report to the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress in October 2017 said.
"Now we are at a juncture to transition from completing targeted poverty reduction to leading the rural population to a better life and prosperity," Gao Ruiqin, associate professor of China Agricultural University, told Beijing Review.
The rural vitalization strategy put forth at the 19th CPC National Congress serves as a key to fulfilling farmers' needs and a guide to rural prosperity. In September 2018, China released the Rural Vitalization Strategic Plan (2018-22), expanding the strategy in a detailed three-step timetable: by 2020, important progress is to be made, as the institutional framework and policy system takes shape; by 2035, decisive progress will be achieved, as the modernization of agricultural and rural areas becomes a reality; by 2050, China's rural areas will be characterized by strong agriculture, a beautiful countryside and well-off farmers.
"The government should play a guiding and supporting role in this, but it should not make the decision for farmers. We should motivate farmers' enthusiasm and let them be the participants, constructors and beneficiaries of rural revitalization," said Cheng Guoqiang, professor of the School of Economics and Management, Tongji University.
Making a transition
The Central Rural Work Conference outlined major tasks related to agriculture, rural areas and rural people for the next two years and mapped out plans for rural and agricultural work for 2019.
Xi said at the conference that 2019 is a key year to secure a decisive victory in achieving the first centenary goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. Solid work related to agriculture, rural areas and rural people will play a significant role in effectively handling various risks and challenges and ensuring steady and healthy economic development and social stability.
Efforts will be made to improve the rural living environment, push forward a new round of agricultural reform, improve weak areas in rural infrastructure and public services and seek progress in rural planning and building, as well as social governance.
Ye Xingqing, Director of the Research Department of Rural Economy, Development Research Center of the State Council, said that compared to cities, rural areas lag relatively behind in these fields, which are related to farmers' wellbeing and the countryside's overall economic and social development.
"Only when we complete these tasks can the sense of gain, happiness and security of China's rural population be enhanced. In this way, the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects will be better fulfilled," Ye said.
Liu Heguang, a researcher with the Institute of Agricultural Economics and Development of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said that an incentive and supervision mechanism should be adopted to ensure the orderly advancement of these targets. Government funds and social resources should be properly invested.
"In the meantime, a capable team of village cadre should be on the frontline," Liu said.
Gao agreed, noting that officials who are dispatched to villages play an important role. They can help villagers better grasp and implement national and local policies and fully mobilize social resources. "Even when they finish their work in villages and return to the cities, they can still provide more connections for the villagers," she said.
Zhu Xinkai is the Vice President of Renmin University of China.