Agriculture analyst, Trivium China
On February 22, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council of the People’s Republic of China published a set of “Opinions on Key Work for Comprehensively Promoting Rural Revitalization.” Dated January 4, this was the first policy document issued at the highest levels of government this year—known as the “No. 1 Document.”
For the past 19 consecutive years, this first annual policy document has focused on the “three rural issues”—namely the rural population, rural areas, and agriculture—in an effort to signal their high priority. It is not just symbolism. China feeds over 20 percent of the world’s population with 7 percent of global farmland, and ensuring food security presents a long-term challenge to the Party-state. Meanwhile, some 500 million people live in rural areas; whether they prosper or struggle has massive implications for national economic and political outcomes.
This year’s No. 1 Document puts food security squarely at the top of the rural policy agenda: it devotes its first two thematic sections to plans for shoring up supply of grain, oilseeds, and other key agricultural products and investing in agricultural modernization to boost production capacity. This renewed emphasis on agricultural fundamentals marks a shift from the past few years, when the Party’s rural development agenda (including a now-victorious campaign to end rural poverty) had pride of place in the No. 1 Document.
Food security is back in the spotlight due in part to the crises and challenges of the past three years—from African swine fever to Covid-19, from severe floods to energy shortages, all amid an increasingly hostile diplomatic and trade environment that affects policymakers’ willingness to rely on imported commodities. These recent events have impressed upon top leadership that food security requires constant effort and vigilance. Furthermore, with stability at the top of Beijing’s macroeconomic priority list this year, it bears noting that there is no faster path to instability than food shortages and price spikes.
That said, rural development priorities are still very much on the agenda. The third, fourth, and fifth sections of the No. 1 Document outline efforts to prevent backsliding into poverty, develop rural industries, and upgrade village infrastructure and facilities—all with significant implications for rural incomes and quality of life.
More practically, the No. 1 Document provides a detailed list of priorities and tasks for the coming year, developed with input from the highest levels of leadership, including Xi Jinping himself at December’s annual Central Rural Work Conference. That makes it a must-read for anyone wishing to understand Beijing’s near-term agriculture and rural policy trajectory, from academics to diplomats to development workers, agribusiness executives, and commodities traders.To top