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[BEIJING] Millions of Chinese farmers are to gain access to new technologies and be taught how to use them under a US$8 million project launched last week (20 April).

The initiative is a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and China's Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST).

The UNDP's China representative, Khalid Malik says the project would "offer innovative and environmentally friendly technologies to Chinese farmers to increase their income and promote sustainable rural development".

The project will build on an existing MOST programme that sends 'technical task forces' to the countryside to help farmers adopt relevant technologies, such as better irrigation techniques and seed varieties.

So far, the ministry has sent more than 20,000 technicians to rural communities in about 400 of China's 2,500 counties.

The UNDP is investing US$1 million in the project and MOST is providing US$3 million, with the remainder coming from local governments and smaller organisations.

Malik told SciDev.Net that the UNDP's participation would "bring advanced international management and experience" and help spread the success of the project to other developing countries.

China's deputy science minister, Liu Yanhua said that as well as introducing new technologies, farmers will be given advice on which technologies are most suitable for their needs.

Despite China's rapid economic growth, the gap between urban and rural incomes has widened in recent years. In 2005, urban workers earned on average 10,493 yuan (US$1,300) — more than three times the rural average.