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The government of the People's Republic of China has formulated a series of policies in agricultural information services and tried several approaches in delivering information services to rural areas in order to develop its agriculture and rural economy and to facilitate production, business operations and farmers' income growth. Some of these approaches have produced important achievements and captured the attention of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). To analyse the experiences in order to improve information services and identify the more effective and easy-toreplicate models for use in other regions of China or even other developing countries, FAO commissioned the Information Centre of the Ministry of Agriculture to set up a study group. This group of researchers conducted field surveys during the first half of 2003 in four counties, one city and one district: Jinyun county and Lanxi city of Zhejiang province, Shucheng county and Wuhu county of Anhui province, Fuyu county of Jilin province and Litong district of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (the specific case studies will be published on the FAO Web site).

After analysing the survey results, the researchers identified three successful information service models to be presented as good practices for possible replication. These three are characterized as: (1) Service station model. This is an information service centre located in counties, townships and villages that together form a three-level rural information service network. Each station relies on county agriculture bureaus, township agricultural technological service stations, agricultural economic management stations, cultural stations, large farmer households in crop farming and animal husbandry, specialized farmer associations and leading agro-enterprises for support in funding and content; (2) Farmers' home model. The farmers' home is established as an independent and open agriculture service facility integrating the functions of agricultural technology consultation, agro-technological extension, information services and business operations. It combines agro-technological extension with information services and provides essentially a "one-stop" service; and (3) Association model. This type of organization is operated autonomously by farmers with a common interest, such as growing a specific crop or raising certain animals, and the information services provided relate to that common interest, such as the Boer Goat Association. The associations provide their members with information on technology, crop seeds or animal breeds, production materials and marketing and related information services. A comparison of the three models renders the following features:

The various information services rely on computers, the Internet and other modern information dissemination resources as well as traditional information dissemination avenues such as television, radio, telephone, publications, briefing notes and blackboards.

Summarizing the reasons for the success of the three information service models highlighted in this report, the researchers found first that the quality of information service does not completely depend upon local economic conditions. What is more important is awareness of the local government about the need for a service and what is involved in providing it. In the surveyed areas where the economy is not well developed, the local government understood the importance of an agricultural information service and issued supportive policies and adopted measures to promote the creation of a service system. Local official support is one of the keys for the success of the three models selected for this report; where these models of information service are found, local officials had recognized that an agricultural information service is a public welfare endeavour. Even with financial difficulties, local governments managed to allocate funds to facilitate the rapid setting up of an information service network at the county, township and village levels.

Second, the researchers noted how attention was given to exploration, integration and utilization of existing information service resources. The information service consultation committee in two of the models consists of specialists from agriculture, forest, water conservation and business administration who can respond to the diverse demands of farmers. The agricultural information service agencies provide services targeted at rural areas and farmers through active collaboration with television stations, newspaper and periodical editors and the agricultural television and broadcast school.

Third, the researchers noted that the quality and enthusiasm of information service workers are continuously improved to more effectively and accurately respond to farmers' information needs and provide knowledge and information that can have impact on the success and growth of farmers' businesses as well as the local economy.

Information dissemination practices in rural China have proven that the development of a rural information service system that government promotes realize more substantial achievements and are endorsed by officials at grassroots organizations, enterprise managers and farmers. However, rural information services in some areas still face a number of difficulties, including human resource shortages and capacity, technological constraints, insufficient content and limited funding. The physical networks and organizational capacity of services need to be established and improved in many areas. The exploration and development of information content and the improvement of information service quality need to be further studied and promoted.

Looking at the demand side of information, the researchers concluded that it is very difficult for information services to produce large scale effects because of the current low levels of organized farmers, market orientation in rural areas, agricultural industrialization and specialization. Where there is little profit from agriculture and/or where farmers have lost their enthusiasm for agriculture, there results an insufficient demand for information and existing information resources are under utilised. Along with strengthening the provision of information services, the need to improve the organization, agricultural production specialization and industrialization levels to stimulate the demand for and guide the consumption of information must be addressed with great effort in rural China.

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