Coronavirus: China urges farmers not to miss crucial planting season despite outbreak

Farmers with face masks harvesting vegetables on a farm in Xianju county, Zhejiang province, China, on Feb 9, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told local governments to make sure farmers don't miss the crucial grain planting season during a critical time for controlling the spread of coronavirus.

Government officials are worried that the epidemic could spread to rural areas, where medical facilities are less developed than urban locales. The outbreak that began in the city of Wuhan has caused more than 2,000 deaths in the nation.

"If we miss the planting season, we'll be unable to make up for it, which will have an impact on the economic foundation and social stability of the whole year," Mr Li said in a release posted on the government's website on Wednesday (Feb 19). "We are holding the rice bowl for 1.4 billion people in our own hands."

Grain planted at this time accounts for more than half of the country's total acreage, said Mr Li. Planting in some southern areas should start in end-February, while the bulk of the activity begins in March, he said.

Some villages have blocked roads and banned farmers from their fields, interrupting the harvest of tea and vegetables, Mr Pan Wenbo, head of the planting department at the agriculture ministry, said on Tuesday.

The difference in population density between rural and urban areas calls for separate measures to control the epidemic, Mr Li said. China will stabilise or slightly raise the government's purchase price for rice in 2020, while encouraging farmers to plant a crop that can be harvested more than once a year.

In other measures, the government will increase state stockpiles of frozen meat, while loan subsidies will be extended to farms with more than 500 pigs, one-tenth of an earlier threshold, he said. Outbreaks of African swine fever have slashed the country's hog herd and meat supplies, prompting the world's top pork consumer to import record amounts in 2019.

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