|China is an East Asian country situated on the western shore of the Pacific Ocean. It is a vast country, having common boundaries with as many as 14 countries. China is the world's most populous country, with a population of over 1.3 billion growing at the rate of 0.6% (2006). The country is divided into 22 provinces (sheng), five autonomous regions (zizhique), four directly controlled municipalities (shi) and two mostly self-governing special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau. China claims Taiwan to be its 23rd province. The capital city of China is Beijing. |
China’s landscape is diversified. The country has plains, broad grasslands, hills, plateaus, low mountain ranges, mountains, major river deltas, deserts, and dry lakebeds. The climate varies from tropical in the Southern regions to sub-freezing in the Northern provinces. Major environmental problems are rapid desertification, air pollution caused by greenhouse gases and use of coal produces, water pollution from untreated wastes, deforestation, and soil erosion.
Agriculture sector is of great importance in China as it employs more than 300 million farmers. Although China is still considered as a communist state, the collectivization of farms was abandoned long ago and cultivable land was allotted to private owners with the objective of enhancing productivity. While China's agricultural output is the highest in the world, only about 15 percent of its total land area is arable. Interestingly, the cultivable land, which is just 10 percent of the total arable land in the world, supports over 20 percent of the world's population. About 75 percent of the area under cultivation is devoted to food crops. About 37.5 percent of the total arable land is irrigated. The land has been distributed among about 200 million households, with an average land allocation of 0.65 hectares per household.
Main crops include rice (grown on 25 percent of the cropped area), wheat, potatoes, sorghum, peanuts, tea, millet, barley, oilseed, pork, and fish. China is the biggest producer of cotton while other fiber crops include ramie, flax, jute, and hemp. Sericulture is common in certain silk producing areas. China has a large livestock population including pigs, fowl, sheep, goats, camels, yaks, cattle, water buffalo, horses, mules, and donkeys. The country accounts for about one-third of the total fish production of the world. Aquaculture and turtle farming are also practiced.
Limited space for farming has been a persistent problem for China. No surprise that the country in recent years was the world's largest importer of soybeans and other food crops. Lately, big cities like Beijing have been adopting peri-urban agriculture to meet food needs of the fast expanding urban population. The Modern Agricultural Science Demonstration Park in Xiao Tangshan is a recent evidence of the importance attached to peri-agriculture.
HISTORY OF EXTENSION
AND THE ENABLING / DISABLING ENVIRONMENT
The evolution of formal agricultural extension in China spreads over several decades, and it offers lessons in the government recognition of extension’s importance in nation building, forbearance, consolidation and incremental improvements based on vision, local considerations and realities on the ground. In 1920’s the Jinling University established a cotton extension section in the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, got the services of a US government expert to assist in the adaptation of US cotton in China and then in the dissemination of the improved cotton technology among farmers. The first extension station was established in 1924 in Wujiang, He County, Anhui Province, followed by the establishment of an agricultural research station. In 1929, “Regulation of Agro-extension,” which was the first law of extension, was enacted in the form of the Central Agro-extension Committee. During the 1950s, after the Peoples Republic of China came into being, the agricultural technology extension (ATE) system was well set up. County-level demonstration farms, manned by Mutual Help Group model laborers and technicians, and ATE stations were established.
From mid-1960s to 1970s, when the Green Revolution was unfolding in South and South-East Asia, the Cultural Revolution in China disbanded the ATE system. Instead, a four-level county agricultural sciences experiment network was extended nationwide. The network’s four levels were: county agricultural research institute; commune agricultural scientific technology station; agricultural scientific technology brigade; and production extension team.
With the end of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s, the commune system also collapsed, and the government started reforming its agricultural extension services. Major thrust of the reform was to merge previously scattered functions of agricultural technology generation, experimentation, demonstration, extension, training and commercial services (mainly supply of agricultural inputs) into one agro-extension system. The Household Contract Responsibility modality was started in rural areas for development purposes. The National General Agricultural Technology Extension Station was established by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1982. The Plant Protection Bureau and the Seed Bureau were simultaneously changed to the National General Plant Protection Station and the National General Seed Management Station respectively. The National General Soil Fertilizer Station was built in 1986. These national level organizational changes later became the basis for creating a modern ATE system reaching townships, counties and villages. At lower administrative levels, several technical centers on crops, plant protection, soils, etc. were integrated to create an extension structure. By 1992, as many as 1,469 County Agricultural Technology Extension Centers (CATECs) and 45,000 Township Agricultural Technology Extension Stations (TATESs) had been established in addition to a large number of Agricultural Technology Demonstration Households (ATDHs).
While organizational changes were going on in 1983, the government allowed the agricultural technology staff to sign service provision contracts with economic institutions and obtain pro rata bonus from enhanced production, thus providing incentive to its extension workers to earn income in addition to their regular salaries. In 1985, the government allowed ATE institutions to launch enterprise-type business entities, and then taking another step in 1985 which would allow extension agents to charge for certain services. All these reforms were indeed a smart move which not only moved the extension staff towards gaining financial sustainability but also let them enter into a business mode something extension services of most developing countries are still lacking.