Rural regions and agriculture are the weakest links in China's economic and social development and they must, therefore, be continuously strengthened.
That was the message from a two-day Central Conference on Rural Work which ended yesterday in Beijing.
It coincided with the abolition of China's 2,600-year-old agricultural tax from Sunday, the first day of 2006.
The annual central rural meeting, presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao, concluded that agricultural and rural development is "an uphill climb."
In light of the difficulty, the country must channel more construction funds to the countryside and reinforce rural infrastructure.
In particular, more investment must go to rural education, health and other social undertakings, a statement from the meeting said.
It said advances should be made in comprehensive rural reform, centred on the reform of the rural tax and fee system, and steady progress must be achieved in grain production to ensure food security.
China's grain production is expected to increase to 484 million tons in 2005, 14.5 million tons more than last year, Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin said on Wednesday
But 495 million tons of grain will be needed in 2006, the minister was quoted by People's Daily as saying yesterday.
To boost agricultural growth and ensure rural stability, the basic management system of rural land must be adhered to, and using the land for construction purposes will be strictly prohibited, the statement said.
It also said farmers-turned-migrant-workers must be treated fairly.
Meanwhile, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, voted yesterday to abolish the agricultural tax regulation. The motion won the support of 162 legislators with one abstaining.
The State Council had earlier decided not to collect agricultural tax from next year.
"The government could merely reduce or remit taxes. Only the NPC has the right to abolish agricultural tax," Wu Bangguo, chairman of Standing Committee of NPC, said yesterday in his closing speech of the six-day session.
"Our decision today will reassure farmers," he said.
Chinese farmers are expected to be brought under a unified tax system for rural and urban areas.
Official figures show that agriculture contributed to 13.1 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004, with industry and tertiary trade making up 46.2 per cent and 40.7 per cent respectively.
Agricultural tax has been levied in China since 594 BC and collected for 2,600 years.
In 1958, the NPC adopted the regulation on agricultural tax.
In March 2004, Premier Wen Jiabao announced in his annual government work report that the Chinese Government would reduce agricultural taxes year on year before they were abolished.
Since then, 28 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have exempted agricultural taxes, reducing a tax burden worth 50 billion yuan (US$6.2 billion) for 800 million farmers.
As local revenues will decrease with the abolition of agricultural tax, the central government will provide assistance to major grain producing areas and central and western regions, sources said.