For China, a large agricultural country with a rural population of around 550 million, work concerning agriculture, rural areas and farmers has always been a top priority for the government.
Thus it is no surprise that the "No 1 central document" — the first policy statement released by the central leadership each year — focused on the issue for the 18th year running.
Yet what makes this year's document, released on Sunday, even more significant than usual is that it presents a comprehensive blueprint for the vitalization of rural areas and the accelerated modernization of agriculture not only for this year but throughout the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period.
This marks a new stage for rural development after the country eliminated abject poverty nationwide by the end of 2020.
Over the past eight years, China has lifted about 10 million people out of penury on average each year. This has laid a firm foundation for China to realize one of its centenary goals — to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2021 when the Communist Party of China celebrates its 100th anniversary. The other centenary goal is to build China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious by the middle of this century. Farmers and the rural areas must not be left behind in the pursuit of this goal.
It must be noted that the progress made in poverty alleviation is yet to be consolidated. The current poverty line — at 2,300 yuan ($355.7) per person each year at the 2010 price level, or about 4,000 yuan at the 2020 level — is not very high compared with the internationally agreed poverty line of about $1.9 per day. This makes it a long-term and arduous task to continue to strengthen assistance for low-income rural residents to prevent them from falling back into poverty.
Which is why, along with ensuring food security and ample supplies of grain and major agricultural products, promoting modern agriculture using science and technology, and improving rural infrastructure and basic public services, one of the major tasks set out in the document is narrowing the income gap between rural and urban residents.
But any work that aims to benefit farmers and the countryside must be carried out based on local conditions to serve their best interests.
There are lessons to be learned from well-intentioned policies that have gone awry. In rural areas of Shenyang, Liaoning province, for example, the government invested more than 100 million yuan over the past five years to provide 80,000 toilets for farmers, but 50,000 were left unattended due to design problems or poor construction. It is important that policies are well-designed and implemented as rural areas have an important role to play as ballast for China's transition to a new development pattern.