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Chinese farmers will receive more training and lectures in science and new agricultural technologies thanks to a boost in government education schemes.

The agriculture ministry will invest at least 1.1 billion yuan (US$137.5 million) in 2007 for science training in rural areas, announced its vice minister Wei Chao'an at the Farmers' Scientific Literacy Forum in Beijing yesterday (19 December).

The figure represents a 53 per cent increase from 2006, and will continue to rise the following year. "From next year, the budget [for farmers' scientific and technological training] will be significantly increased each year," says Wei.

The investment is part of a massive 15-year plan for boosting scientific literacy released in March this year (see 'Scientific literacy: a new strategic priority for China').

The money will help farmers develop farming skills, says Wei, as well as train them in coping with market fluctuations and getting jobs in emerging industries.

Only 0.7 per cent of Chinese farmers are scientifically qualified, according to the 2003 national public scientific literacy survey.

Song Li, a farmer in Daxing County in suburban Beijing, told the forum that since attending an agricultural skills training programme, his harvest of greenhouse vegetables has more than doubled, and he spends less on chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

But despite continued efforts to improve farmers' scientific knowledge, Wei admitted that only 9.1 per cent of China's roughly 700 million farmers have ever participated in a science and technology training programme.

Deng Nan, first secretary of the China Association for Science and Technology said the association will join forces with government departments including the agriculture ministry to create an outline for improving farmers' scientific literacy.

The outline will revise the current criteria for evaluating scientific literacy.

Wang Degui, vice-chairman of Shanxi Association for Science and Technology, says the criteria should include more technological skills and health knowledge, instead of the scientific definitions and methodologies currently emphasised.

The science and technology ministry announced another funding rise today (20 December) for agriculture-related research; funding for agriculture research will double over the next five years, to reach US$550 million.

It said that research on rural community development, such as clean biomass energies for farmer households, will receive particular support.