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Substantial incentives for farming are needed | Updated: 2013-12-31 14:42

After decades since the great rural-to-urban migration began in the 1980s, the children of those first migrants are choosing to remain in the cities where they were born and raised. They have no desire to return to their parents' hometowns to follow in the footsteps of their grandparents left behind -- to farm. Never having been taught how, these "second-generation migrant workers" are instead desperate to integrate into city life.

In many cases, "migrant worker" may not even be an accurate title for them, as many have settled in the cities where they work with their spouses and children. Even without a hukou that allows them to receive benefits for city residents, they still prefer city life over farm life. However, the increase in these new young urbanites will put a strain on China's food supply, as well as threaten social stability.

Statistics have shown that people in cities consume more food than people in rural areas. With the government's push for urbanization, food demand will likely continue to climb. But to meet this demand, China needs knowledgeable farmers who are capable of employing modern agricultural methods. Unfortunately, most farmers today are older women, while a younger generation of would-be farmers leaves the countryside in search of more profitable work.

Even though the Chinese government recently announced that crop production has increased over the past 10 years, top leaders still see food security as a major issue, with the recent Central Economic Work Conference giving it top priority in 2014. Given the decrease in arable land and increase in reliance on food imports, many Chinese are indeed worried about food security.

Meanwhile, the presence of second-generation migrant workers in cities may disrupt social stability if they are not properly integrated. But it remains difficult for them to get an urban hukou, preventing them from sending their children to a good school without paying an exorbitant amount in tuition. They often cannot buy an apartment and instead live in shantytowns or the suburbs. Though they try to fit in, they remain systematically marginalized.

The second-generation migrant workers, who don't know anything about farming, should at least receive better job opportunities in the cities where they've made their homes. But who will produce our food?

Under such circumstances, China needs to adopt substantial incentives for rural and agricultural development, encouraging young people to devote to rural development and agriculture production.

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