Why are Chinese farmers unhappy with farming conditions?

China may have achieved an unprecedented growth in the agricultural output but has failed to satisfy farmers. A large number of farmers are unwilling to do farming for a living, posing a threat to the food security of the world’s most populous nation. However, there are several factors that have influenced farmers in China. Here are a few reasons:

China has experienced rapid urbanization over the past few decades. Many rural areas have undergone significant transformation as people migrated to cities in search of better economic opportunities. This has resulted in a decrease in the agricultural workforce and a shift in aspirations away from traditional farming.

The rapid economic growth in China has created a wide range of job opportunities in non- agricultural sectors, such as manufacturing, technology, and services. These sectors often offer higher wages and better living conditions compared to farming, leading to a decrease in interest in agriculture.

The rural population in China is aging, with many young people leaving rural areas for urban centres. The older generation, who typically has more experience in farming, is gradually retiring without sufficient replacement from younger generations. This demographic shift contributes to a decline in agricultural activity and interest.

Farming in China has become more mechanized and technology-driven in recent years. This has led to increased efficiency and productivity but has also reduced the need for manual labour. The younger generation may be less interested in traditional farming methods, preferring careers that involve modern technologies and innovation.

Lastly, there is often a significant income disparity between rural and urban areas in China. The perception that farming may offer lower income and a less prosperous lifestyle compared to urban occupations can discourage young people from pursuing agricultural careers.

It is a reality that Food security is directly linked to the declining interest in farming in China. While urbanization, economic opportunities, and other factors have contributed to the shift away from farming, it’s important to consider the broader implications for food security. As China’s population has grown and its economy has developed, ensuring an adequate and stable food supply has become a significant priority. China has made efforts to increase agricultural productivity through modernization, mechanization, and technological advancements. These changes have resulted in higher yields and improved efficiency in the agricultural sector.

Despite these advancements, challenges remain in maintaining food security. The shrinking agricultural workforce and the migration of rural populations to urban areas have put pressure on the farming industry. There is a concern that the decreasing interest in farming could lead to a decline in agricultural production, which may have implications for food availability and affordability.

Observers said that safeguarding food security has been a critical priority for the Chinese government. Beijing has sought to strengthen its focus on food security through increased agricultural production and diversification of imports, and President Xi Jinping’s recent comments have given clear signal of continued concerns for China’s food security. Ahead of the 20th National Party Congress in October 2022 and the release of the No. 1 policy document, there were already several hints regarding what the Chinese central authorities could prioritize in terms of food security in 2022 and beyond, based on various recent conferences, policies, and release of five-year plans (FYP). Other factors, including the

potential influences of gene-edited plants, commercialization of genetically modified (GM) crops, and of a Russia-Ukraine conflict should also be considered.

According to a report in South China Monitor Post, farmers are being bullied by the recently formed Agricultural Comprehensive Administrative Law Enforcement Team which was set up in January. The rural law enforcement force’s public conduct has thrown a poor lighton the government’s efforts. It is casting doubt about its tactics after several incidents were perceived on Chinese social media as the bullying of farmers, said a report in media. The Agricultural Comprehensive Administrative Law Enforcement team – referred to as nongguan, or “agriculture management” – has been a hot issue in recent weeks after video clips of contentious law enforcement actions started trending on Chinese social media platforms.

The force, which was officially set up in January, soon came under public criticism.In April, Chinese internet users shared viral video clips of rural management teams’ questionable and intrusive actions, including footage of a farmer in Heilongjiang province in northeastern China being asked to clear corn planted around his fish-farming pond because it was “unsightly”.

A team in Jian prefecture, Jiangxi province, was seen catching chickens that were not kept in cages to prevent them defecating everywhere; and a Jiangsu farmer complained that rural law enforcement officers had banned him from stringing a rope between two of his trees to hang clothes.There is also a video of farmers in Yanshi, Henan province, having to pass a test on basic agricultural skills, such as spraying insecticide. Internet users have raised serious questions over the manner rural management personnel have been operating.

According to a list circulating online at the end of April, the agricultural and rural bureau in Tibet’s Nyingchi prefecture ordered law enforcement equipment similar to that used by police. In addition to walkie-talkies and body cameras, the list included night-vision goggles, signal jammers, stab-proof vests and stun batons.Many Chinese internet users questioned the need to equip an agriculture enforcement team with potent equipment.Some have questioned the necessity to test the farmers on their farming skills. The serious concerns over rural law enforcement units is based on the fact that grass-root units became so powerful during the Covid-19 lockdown, leaving people high and dry. So much so that a security guard could decide the people’s movement.

Another reason of concern is team’s uniform which is the same as China’s urban management force, widely known as chengguan.Chengguan are installed in almost every city in mainland China. They mostly clamp down on illegal street vendors but also enforce rules on city sanitation, landscaping and parking. Chengguan officers have often been criticised and accused of using bullying tactics in incidents resulting in injury, and sometimes death.

Facing strong negative sentiment on its newly reassembled law enforcement team, the agriculture ministry and its mouthpiece, Farmer’s Daily, soon weighed in.

On April 15, the ministry said intrusive actions – including banning planting vegetables around farmers’ compounds and prohibiting farming free-range chickens and ducks in villages – were “not within the job scope” of the local rural management law enforcement teams. Farmer’s Daily clarified a week later that apart from specific occupations – such as tractor and combine harvester operators – Chinese farmers did not need certificates to farm, and certifying farming skills was also not within the job scope of the rural management units.It said some localities issued professional farmer certificates to encourage farmers to take up new technologies and skills, but those certificates were not “licences” for farming.

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