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2.1 Overview of the sample areas

Table 1: Education level of surveyed farmers (%)


Primary school and lower

Junior middle school

Senior middle school

College and above































People in agriculture account for more than 80 percent of the total population in the five counties and for 66 percent in Litong district (Table 2).

Table 2: Population structure in the sample counties and district (10 000)

All areas are not economically well developed. The per capita net income of farmers in Jinyun county and Lanxi city in 2002 was lower than the average of US$596.80[3] in Zhejiang province. The western regions in China belong to the least developed area; the per capita average net income of farmers in 2002 in Ningxia was US$231.60. However, Litong district is located in the central part of the plains area of Ningxia with rather good conditions for irrigation, and it has been historically a high yielding and good quality agricultural production area. Thus, Litong is the core area of economic development in Ningxia and the average income of its farmers in 2002 was US$377.40, relatively higher than other areas of Ningxia (Tables 3a and 3b).

Table 3a: Per capita average net income of farmers in the sample provinces and autonomous region in 2002 (US$)

Table 3b: Per capita average net income of farmers in the sample counties and district in 2002 (US$)

Regarding information facilities, most people surveyed for this report own a television; its frequency rate among the 268 households in all the study sites reached more than 80 percent. The second most common device was a fixed telephone in households, with a frequency rate of more than 20 percent (Table 4a, although the survey was not conducted in Litong district and thus the data is not available). Very few farmer households had a computer; the highest concentration was found in Lanxi city where farmer households with computers accounted for only 0.5 percent of the total number of farmer households surveyed (Table 4b).

Table 4a: Information tools owned by farmer households

Note: Survey was not conducted in Litong district.

Table 4b: Information tools owned by farmer households

2.2 Models of rural information service provision

From the different practices studied in the six areas, the researchers identified three models of successful information service networks that could be replicated elsewhere.

· Service station model

The "service station" model refers to an information service centre that is government driven and provides a little bit of information on a wide range of topics - everything that is considered locally relevant. The network links government offices at three levels - county, township and village - and is capable of moving information and knowledge both to and from farmers (Figure 5).

At the county level the service station relies on agricultural departments for funding, content development and management. A township information service station, such as shown in Figure 3, is set up with the support of the township rural economic management, agricultural and technological extension and cultural service centres. The village information station is established in villages where the production of a specific agricultural product or a group of products has reached a certain scale, and there is strong demand for information. The village "spots", or mini stations, rely on the village committee and large farmer households of crop farming, animal raising and business operations for staff. As well, specialized farmer associations and dragonhead enterprises[4] of agricultural industrialization and other intermediate organizations and businesses that can provide services to farmers also contribute to the village spots. All established township and village information service stations have reached the requirements of "five ones"[5] of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Agricultural Technology 110 (Figure 4) is an organization format of information service in rural China, which was started in Quzhou of Zhejiang province. In some areas, the agricultural department, in association with other departments related to agriculture, organized an agricultural information consultation service agency, which uses the police emergency telephone number of 110 as its name to indicate the promptness and convenience of the agricultural information service. In some places the information service stations are called Agriculture Technology 110, while elsewhere it is simply called Agriculture 110.

Figure 3: Xinjiang township agro-technological service station, Jinyun county

Since township and village service stations and spots are widely distributed in rural areas, they resolve the problem of the "last mile of connectivity" of information by providing service to farmers through multiple approaches. This model is used in Jinyun, Wuhu and Shucheng counties. The information flow of the ser vice station model is illustrated in Figure 5. The two-way arrow symbol represents two-way communication.

Figure 4: Information service centre known as Agricultural Technology 110 in Jinyun county

Key points for replication

(i) The support of the government is critical in every phase of launching the service station model. For example, Jinyun county is part of a poorly developed area in Zhejiang province and is a target for poverty alleviation programmes. Shucheng is an impoverished county. However, local government officials in both areas recognized the importance of agricultural information and the public's need for access to it and thus gave the establishment of an information service network system top priority. The officials set up a task team to develop the network, issued informational notices to all relevant agencies for inclusion in the organizing and provided financial support. As a result, a three-level service network in the county, township and

(ii) Government funding is the foundation of the network. The finance bureaus covered all start-up and continuing overhead costs of the network. To help keep the costs manageable, the Jinyun county government coordinated with the county telecommunications bureau and issued several favourable policies for the development and operation of the network.

(iii) Human resources of related departments should be integrated and consolidated to maximize the advantages of resources. Because the spectrum of production in rural areas is very broad and farmers' information needs involve crop farming, animal raising, product processing, agriculture, forestry and water conservation, among many others, one department can hardly satisfy the diverse demand. It is necessary to utilize the human resources of all relevant departments in a coordinated manner to provide comprehensive services. For example, the expert consultation group established by the Jinyun county officials included people from the fields of crop farming, animal raising and water conservation. Regulations were formulated to promote standardized and systematic services. Market information, computer and agricultural technologies and knowledge of other fields were organized by the county information centre and other related departments.

Figure 5: Information flow of the service station model villages was quickly established.

· Farmers' home model

The Lanxi agriculture, forestry and water resource bureaus jointly established the "farmers' home" model of providing information and knowledge (Figure 6). The service facilities are located in a 450 sq m "store" that is rented within a busy shopping area of the county capital. It includes 11 specific sales counters, one expert consultation desk and one agricultural product exhibition and trade area. Seeds, pesticides, fertilizers and other production materials are sold at the counters (Figure 7). While shopping for their farming needs, farmers can at the same time speak with sales representatives for the correct application methods of their purchases or any other product. Relevant technical materials also are distributed to farmers for free at the counters. When farmers have technical questions or want to know market information about certain agricultural products, they can turn to the consultation desk for assistance.

Figure 6: The farmers' home in Lanx city

This type of one-stop open facility integrating agro-technological consultation, agrotechnological extension, information service and business operations provides great convenience to farmers. It has become a popular resource for information and is a practical and easily applicable model for many areas in China. Figure 8 presents a diagram illustrating the information service and paths of the farmers' home model, with the two-way arrow representing two-way communication.

Figure 7: Seed counter at the Lanxi farmers' home

Key points for replication

(i) Government backing in the form of policy support and funding is the first needed step in setting up a farmers' home.

Government seed money can get the system started and considering that agriculture materials produce small profit, government support can keep the service going. In Lanxi city, the government continues to provide financial support to the farmers' home, which opened four years ago. Among other things, it pays the annual rent of US$9 640 for the premises.

(ii) Considerable thought should be given to the location, outside appearance and internal display of services. The service facility should be located in an area with a large number of people passing by and easy transportation access, preferably close to a parking area. Easy access for automobiles is important for the farmers who will be going to the facility to pick up items as well as information. A spacious facility with sufficient light produces a feeling of openness and easy accessibility and thus encourages farmers, or anyone, to come often, find what they need and take their time picking up whatever information they might think is useful. As Figure 9 shows, the Lanxi farmers' home has a wide glass storefront that lets people in the street clearly see the products displayed. Inside, the products and counters are well organized, and users can easily spot and find what they need, including experts for consultation.

(iii) As in the service station model, here also the human resources of different fields should be consolidated in the preliminary phase. In Lanxi, the agricultural, forestry and water conservation bureaus formed a joint consultation group to pool their resources and strengths in formulating the farmers' home model to provide better service. At the same time, government regulations covering work ethics and formalities in dealing with clients were set up to guide the conduct of each member of the group so as to ensure the effects of service.

Figure 8: Information flow of farmers' home model

Figure 9: Outside view of the farmers' home on Lanxi city

· Association model

The "association" approach to information dissemination works well in counties and townships where the production of one or some farm products has reached a certain scale and in villages where there is a major farm production or large farmer households. These situations generate a flow of many people in somewhat close proximity seeking the same types of information. Because of their similar interests, they are more likely to help establish a specialized association on a voluntarily basis that is autonomously managed by them. This type of group centres around one crop or animal, or some other commodity in common. In Fuyu county, for example, farmers organized a paddy rice association and a boer goat association. Unlike the previous two models, the association narrows its service to providing information to its members that is relevant to the common ground. While narrow in focus, it can cover a range of technical, market and policy issues. Some associations also purchase production materials for members and offer marketing services for farm products. The information flow of the association service network is outlined in Figure 12. The two-way arrow symbol represents two-way communication.

Key points for replication

(i) A certain level of specialized production and scale among several farmers is first necessary for this model to be of any use. As well, the farmers need to have a strong desire for establishing a specialized association and for receiving socialized services in market information, technology and product marketing. At the same time, there must be farmer organizers who are enthusiastic to provide services to others, who have experiences in specialized production and marketing and relevant knowledge of science and technology.

Figure 10: Fuyu Country Information Service Centre

(ii) Government policies that support the establishment of an association encourage farmers to take on this effort and help ensure that they are set up in farmers' best interest and not created for the benefit of large enterprises or so that anyone can take advantage of rural farmers.

Figure 11: Farmer association of fibe qualitu rice in Taolaizhao, Fuyu county

(iii) As the association must operate as a business, an understanding of business management is crucial among at least a few of the organizing farmers. The Fuyu County Information Association does not collect membership fees from its farmers, and there is no funding support from the local government. Still, it provides information services and technical guidance to members for free. It does cover operating expenses through income from selling production materials, such as fertilizer. As the income level of farmers is very low in most of China's rural areas, many specialized associations of farmers and cooperative organizations do not collect membership fees from farmers. Those that do charge fees keep the amount very insignificant, compared with the cost of providing their services. Only when the association can obtain its own income source can it balance the expenditure of providing services.

Figure 12: Information flow of the association model

2.3 Differences between the three models

· Geographic location

Generally, service stations and associations are located in the rural areas close to farmers and are convenient to farmers seeking assistance. The farmers' home is located in towns at a somewhat long distance from farmers, and it is not often convenient for farmers to run to town when they encounter small problems in production.

· Users

The farmers' home model has the broadest reach to users, which includes local farmers, enterprises and specialized farmer associations as well as producers and agro-business operators outside the area. In other words, the service of the farmers' home has no geographic limitation. The typical users of the service station model tend to be producers and agro-business operators of agricultural products from the community. The association model differs considerably in that its service is targeted to a very specific group of users in agriculture who produce similar products and who are members of the association. While stressing development and the consolidation of information service resources, the association model puts more emphasis on the improvement of farmers' organizations and production specialization levels. It also stresses the benefits of one, or a limited, subject matter and having many people focused on the same thing in one group. Agricultural technological workers in townships of Fuyu county have been interested in helping organize farmers in creating specialized production associations so as to provide more direct, prompt and targeted services to farmers.

· Services offered

The types of information the users seek in both the farmers' home and the service station models are rather diverse. The service station model usually provides only advisory information services to farmers while the content involves various agricultural production technologies, market details, demand and supply of products and policy information. Some service stations also provide marketing services in seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. At the farmers' home, farmers can get advisory information on agricultural production and management and purchase agro-production materials as well. The association model content focuses on production technology and market information of a particular group of products the members produce. At the same time, it also organizes centralized procurement of some production materials and marketing of agricultural products.

· Major actors

The establishment, operation, development, input and management of the service station and farmers' home models are strongly backed by agricultural administrative departments of local government; associations are autonomously managed and operated by farmers. Consultation groups involving experts from the agriculture, forestry, water conservation and other agriculture-related bureaus with strong technical strength have been established in the service station and farmers' home to respond to enquiries. Compared with the association model, the service station and farmers' home involve more human resources and technological and management advantages that can fully tap agricultural technological talents in government at various levels. But as the specialized associations focus only on the study and development of the market of a particular product, and thus have very good knowledge about the market and rather complete information about that particular product, they then have more advantages for market development compared with the other two models.

· Funding

The service station and farmers' home models rely more on the support of government funding and hence have advantages in terms of financing. The association model depends more on the economic profits made by selling agricultural production materials to farmers to cover its expenditure.

· Costs

The establishment and operation of the service station and farmers' home greatly depend upon the financial support of local government. Since the association is a civil organization voluntarily established by farmers, the operating costs are relatively low. However, it is because of the stable financial support of government that the service station and farmers' home have the capability to organize large-scale information service activities, such as hiring experts to deliver technical training to farmers, while the capacity of associations in this respect is much weaker.

Looking at the development perspective, the presence of local government in rural information service in the coming several years will become more and more apparent. In another decade, associations, specialized cooperatives and other intermediate organizations will be greater in number as a result of farmers' increased awareness of the need to be "self-sufficient". The economic strengths of these entities will become stronger. As a result, information services in rural areas will then be delivered mainly by intermediate organizations, such as the various associations, while government will shift its function to provide policy guidelines, supportive legislation and administrative supervision. As the farmers become more organized into specialized associations, they will be able to catalyze/support their own information services. Direct support from the government in organizational and funding capacity will no longer be necessary. However, the government will still have a role in setting policy and "supervision", i.e. making sure there are no problems through a kind of policing.

Table 5: Summary of main features of the three models


Service station model

Farmers' home model

Association model

Geographic location

Located in rural areas close to farms

Located in towns, some distance from farms

Located in rural areas close farms


Producers/farmers and agribusiness operators from the local community

Producers/farmers, enterprises, specialized farmer associations, and agribusiness operators locally and outside the immediate area

Members of an association of producers/farmers that produce

Services offered

Provide advisory and information services to farmers on agricultural production technologies, markets, supply and demand of products and policy information; some also sell production inputs (e.g. seeds, pesticides and fertilizers)

Provide advisory and information services on agricultural production technologies and also sell production inputs (e.g. seeds, pesticides and fertilizers)

Provide information services on agricultural production technologies and markets; organize centralized procurement of some production inputs and marketing of agricultural produce

Major actors

Agricultural administrative departments of local government supported by consultation groups of experts with strong technical knowledge

Agricultural administrative departments of local government supported by consultation groups of experts with strong technical knowledge

Autonomously managed and operated by associations for their farmer members

Funding & costs

Government funded - stable funding base that allows development of strong service

Government funded - stable funding base that allows development of strong service

Funded by profits made from selling agricultural production materials to farmers; relatively low operating costs; weaker service

Major advantage

Strong human resource base and infrastructure that taps agricultural public domain at various levels

Strong human resource base and infrastructure that taps agricultural public domain at various levels

Good knowledge about the technological aspects of and market for a particular commodity(ies)

2.4 Similarities between the models

Even though the three service models differ in form, the methods used by each in providing information have many similarities, as discussed in this section.

2.4.1 Sources of information content

With its three-level information service network, the service station model has more advantages than the other two models (such as the county information centre updates and the informationcollecting tasks carried out by specialized agencies). Essentially the service station model has a larger network that can be directly commanded by government so its reach in terms of gathering information is wider. However, information service organizations at all levels use the following sources for data and information:

· Newspapers and periodicals For instance, the Huzhen township information service station in Jinyun county subscribes to 16 newspapers and periodicals, such as the Farmers' Daily, Tea of China, Floriculture of China and Practical Technologies for Fruit Trees (Figure 13).

· County information centre updates The county information centres require each township and village information service station to promptly report on local economic dynamics and technological and market problems encountered by farmers in production and management.

· Specialized agricultural agencies The Jinyun County Agricultural Bureau assigned information-gathering tasks to each of its sections and to the specializing stations in grain and oil crops, county special feature products, animal husbandry and veterinary service and plant protection. This task is used as an item for year-end evaluation of the performance of the sections and stations and as basis for awarding bonuses.

Figure 13: Newspaper subscribed to by Huzhen township information station, Jinyun county

· Price information points in markets For example, starting from September 1999, the Litong agricultural information centre in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region selected three large-scale wholesale markets of agricultural products known as the East Suburb, the Xihu and the West markets as fixed information collection points. The wholesale and retail prices of vegetables, meats, fruits and grains in the markets are collected and analysed.

· Relevant specialized Web sites Examples include the China Agricultural Information Network, China Forestry Information Network, China Agricultural Product Supply and Demand Information Network, Anhui Province Agricultural Network and Zhejiang Province Agricultural Network. Useful market information or technological information on crop farming and animal husbandry for local agricultural production is downloaded from these Web sites.

· Formal and informal events These include training courses, various types of lectures, meetings and study tours.

In addition to the above, the following methods are applied for assessments of farmers' needs for information:

· Telephone consultations

· Face-to-face enquiries In situations when a farmer visits the office.

· Farm household surveys Information service or agricultural workers at various levels often carry out surveys and studies in townships, villages and farmer households to assess first hand farmers' needs and market trends. For instance, the Sanyuan Township Information Station in Wuhu county, Anhui province, printed an "agricultural network information service card" for distribution to farmers who can write down their information needs and return the card to the station. The county information centre requires that the township and village information service stations and information service workers collect a certain amount of information about farmers' information needs each month. Only the service station model possesses the conditions to provide these details. The collected information is appraised, screened, sorted and synthesized by experts before being published or released. Wuhu county conducts one or two agricultural product analysis sessions each month, which are also made public in each village affairs bulletin and posted in each village activity centre.

2.4.2 Methods of information dissemination and exchange

There are many service methods combining modern with traditional approaches and technology with human inputs to fully tap the comprehensive advantages of different resources. The following describes the different methods of information dissemination utilized in the sites that were studied:

· Consultation in office (reception desk) Designated people on duty in service agencies at the county and township information service centres and information service stations or farmers' homes address the various needs and difficulties of those who come for consultation (Figure 14). Most of the information service agencies are located in convenient areas for easy access by farmers.

Figure 14: Consultation desk of the information service known as Agricultural Technology 110 in Jinyun county

· Telephone hotline The telephone is the most common communication instrument owned by farmer households. Among the counties and district studied, the lowest ratio of farmer households with a telephone to the total number of households was found in Fuyu county at 20 percent. The highest ratio reached 51 percent in Wuhu county. In townships with better economic conditions, the rate is even higher. For example, it is 80 percent in Longhe township, Shucheng county. Providing information service to farmers through telephone consultation is one service method widely used in many areas. To help farmers in Jinyun county remember the phone number, the last three digits of the hotline numbers for each of the networks service level (county, township and village) are "110" (Figure 15). Some townships even shifted the phone numbers with 110 as the last three digits already installed in farmer households to the township service station. Designated personnel attend the hotline each day. For questions that cannot be answered right away, the worker will take note and seek out an expert in the consultation group. The priority is to provide an answer as soon as possible.[6]

Figure 15: Records of consultation of the agriculture 110 centre in Litong district

· Auto-audio service system Some information service agencies with mature conditions (long established and with funds) have developed an agricultural expert intelligence audio system with digitalized agricultural science and technology information. An automatic audio recording responds to farmers' enquiries. Both Lanxi city and Fuyu county have set up a telephone audio service system. Farmers call in and press "1" with questions about rice, press "2" for information on the newest fertilizers, etc. and then hear a recorded answer.

· Agricultural programmes in collaboration with television stations The popularization rate of the television set in rural areas is relatively high. The rate of farmer households with televisions in the studied areas is more than 80 percent of the total farmer households. Some information service agencies actively cooperate with television stations and have created agricultural programming that can further extend the coverage of information service. The information centre officials in Fuyu county, for example, initiated a special television programme called Rural Area in Fuyu. The county information centre supplies the main content for the programme. Within the programme, there are three spots of public service information entitled: "Science and Technology Garden", "Information Window" and "Roads to Prosperity". The programme is broadcast once a week and repeats four times during the lunch hour and after dinner when farmers are resting at home.

· Agricultural information column in newspapers and periodicals Newspapers and periodicals are the traditional disseminators of information. Some information service agencies work with publishers of newspapers and periodicals to extend their coverage. Shucheng Newspaper in Shucheng county is published twice a week and each edition contains a special column for agriculture. The Agricultural Commission provides the content to the publisher, such as information on seeds, law enforcement, technologies, market analysis and prices of agricultural products. The farmers' home in Lanxi city coordinates with the Lanxi Daily to run a column entitled "Wind of the Field", which is published every Thursday. The column takes up the whole second page of the Daily, which is the economic page. The circulation of the newspaper is 15 000 copies a day.

· Publications, bulletins and clear cards[7] issued by information service agencies Information service agencies with sufficient budgets sponsor regularly and irregularly published newspapers, periodicals and newsletters. For instance, the Huzhen Township Information Service Station in Jinyun county publishes a monthly magazine called the Agricultural Information Dissemination (Figure 16). Irregularly published publications are produced according to agricultural seasons and activities. For instance, the Longhe township in Shucheng county published the Longhe Agricultural Technology, containing technical advice on how to manage crop fields during rainy season in mid-December. It talked of clearing drainage ditches to better drain fields, when to apply additional compound fertilizer and how to strengthen control of aphis and weeds with chemicals. Some information service organizations in rural areas produce concise, practical and urgently needed information in technology and policies in a single sheet for distribution to farmers who call it a "clear card".

Figure 16: Publication of Huzhen township information station

· Pamphlets, blackboards and bulletin boards in rural areas Some information service organizations assemble news pieces (Figures 17-18) regarding agricultural technology and market information that are cut from newspapers or are photocopies of printed material or actual pamphlets. They are placed on clipboards or bulletin boards in a communal location to facilitate farmers' access. Blackboards and bulletin boards are established in certain areas of townships where people usually gather, such as in front of the government office, in front of agricultural production material shops, at junctions of main roads and other convenient locations (Figure 19). Information service stations publish timely information on markets, technology, crop varieties and policies for the use of farmers. Sometimes it is handwritten on the board or paper (Figures 20-21), or it is printed and displayed. The bulletin boards conveniently display timely news and advice regarding agricultural technological knowledge, such as different farming practices through the change of seasons, what to pay attention to while planting crops, field management, specific advice on raising animals and how to control animal disease epidemics.

Figure 17: Information pamphlets of the information service centre of Agricultural Technology 110, Jinyun county

Figure 18: Contents of information pamphlets

· Broadcasting Some townships and villages also broadcast meteorological, crop disease and pest forecast information to farmers regularly through the local radio station (broadcasting is over a fixed line system into each home radio in the village that is wired to the station) (Figure 22). Xingfu village in Shucheng county broadcasts to its residents useful information that is collected from the Internet, newspapers and periodicals. This is a cost-effective measure with wide coverage.

Figure 19: Information bulletin board of Henggang township information station, Wuhu county

· Electronic screens, computer touch screens and the Internet Information service organizations, such as in Lanxi city (Figure 23), with rather strong economic resources have purchased electronic screens to publish policy news and agricultural product price information. Some other centres have bought computer touch screens that are connected with the Internet that allow farmers to search for whatever information they need (Figure 24). All the six counties and district surveyed for this report have launched an agricultural information Web site that features the local rural economic dynamics and information of agricultural product demand and supply. These counties and district also use the China Agricultural Information Network, the Provincial Agricultural Information Network and other relevant Web sites to provide demand and supply information of local agricultural products or to download useful information for local agricultural production for free distribution to farmers.

Figure 20: Blackboard of Longhe township information station, Shucheng county

Figure 21: Information bulletin board in Sanyuan township, Wuhu ocuntry

· Science and technology fairs, training, lectures and on-the-spot demonstrations Science and technology fairs are information service activities often conducted in many areas and are typically well attended and received by farmers. Usually the County Agricultural Bureau and the agriculturerelated bureaus jointly organize such ac tivities. Agr icultural science and technology specialists will visit the townships and villages, taking along printed materials, books and VCDs and set up desks and chairs in front of the township government building or agricultural product market to distribute the materials to farmers (Figure 25). Farmers can mingle with the specialists and discuss questions and technical difficulties with them. Lectures and training on specialized agricultural and information t e c h n o l o g i e s h a v e b e e n o r g a n i z e d periodically by information service agencies to both improve the quality of information service workers in townships and villages and provide science and other information to farmers. In synch with agricultural seasons and growth cycles of crops and animals, agricultural technology specialists visit farm fields and provide targeted information, technical advice and training to farmers. Since the overall education level of farmers is not very high, technicians not only need to translate difficult scientific jargon into plain words that are understandable by farmers, but they also need to demonstrate concepts and practices to farmers who can better understand by being shown a demonstration.

Figure 22: Broadcasting station in Xingfu village, Shucheng county

Figure 23: Electronic screen displaying prices of agricultural products at the farmers' home in

Figure 24: A farmer in Fuyu county uses a touch-screen computer

2.4.3 Funding support for information services

In China, providing information service to farmers is a public welfare endeavour and thus is completely free of charge. As for the investment for setting up information service organizations and their operating costs, the sources of funding are different at the county, township and village levels and through associations, as the following explains:

· Sources of funding for the county information centre

The establishment of a county information centre mainly relies on a constant source of funding allocated by the local government. Sometimes there is one-time investment given by upper-level departments, and there are supports in different forms by other local bureaus. For example, the total investment for setting up the Jinyun county information service was US$22 400, of which US$12 100 was allocated by the county government and the county agricultural bureau provided the remaining US$10 300. The annual operating cost of US$7 500 is covered by the agricultural bureau's budget. The Jinyun County Telecommunications Bureau provided suppor t by issuing favourable policies for developing the network. For instance, the information services centre known as Agricultural Technology 110 enjoys free connection to the Internet, while the township information service station pays US$12.08 per month for its Internet service. At the village information service spots, it is also free for 1 500 hours in the first year and then half price in the second year and with a 30 percent discount in the third year. As 2002 was the first year of implementing the policies at the village level, the county agricultural bureau will continue to solicit favourable policies from the telecommunications bureau.

Figure 25: Information fair in Huaqiao township, Wubu county

· Sources of funding support for the township information service station

Funds needed by the majority of township information stations are from government sources, but a number of such stations also rely on self-raised funds. Funding sources for the start-up construction of the township information service station are from county and township government budgets, while in some areas the provincial government renders support. The daily operating costs of most of the township information service stations are completely sourced from township government funds. A small number of township information stations rely on self-raised funds (Figure 26) to cover operating costs, i.e. income from marketing production materials or rental charges for leased space in the agricultural technology extension service station premises.

Figure 26: Longhe township service station sells seeds to help cover information service expenses, Shucheng county

Funds for township information service stations in Wuhu county come from city, county and township budgets, each providing one-third of what is needed. Each township invested US$1 087 initially to purchase equipment. The routine operating costs are shouldered by the township budget. For instance, the township government provides US$6 000 to $7 200 a year for operating the information service in Henggang township. Of that amount, US$1 400 is used for farmer training activities, US$1 700 for materials, US$700 for market studies and consultation fees, US$2 200 for Internet service provision, telephone and maintenance and the remaining US$600 for other costs. Both the Nvbu Township Information Service Station in Lanxi and the Xinjiang Township Information Service Station in Jinyun county are supported by self-raised funds. The Nvbu station occupies a section of the township agricultural technological extension station, which markets seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. The operational costs of the information station are covered with income of the business operations, which is about US$3 020 annually. The Xinjiang information station is also located within the township agricultural technological extension station, and all its costs, including telephone bills and materials distributed to farmers free of charge, are covered by the income from rental charges for leased space.

· Sources of funding support for village information stations and service associations

Usually, the establishment and operating costs of village information service spots are covered by self-raised funds; however, the government provides a certain amount of financial support initially. Where most village information service spots are started by farmers, enterprises and specialized farmer associations, procurement of equipment and daily operational costs of providing information service by such stations are usually covered by the farmers (enterprise or association). Some village information spots are located in the village committee building and revenues of the collectives cover its costs. County and township governments provide a certain amount of incentives, though in different forms. For instance, the county government provided US$181 to each village information service spot that opened in Jinyun county, while some township governments also contributed funds. In some cases, the local government might provide certain incentive fund support. In Wuhu county in Anhui province, officials offered a one-time incentive of US$300-$360 to each village information service worker who did a good job in organizing demonstration households of the Yeast Project.[8] There is no earmarked funding for information association support in Fuyu county, and the association does not charge membership fees. Funds for providing service derive mainly from the slim profit of production material sales to farmers. The only equipment available in the association is a telephone. The specialized association in Wuhu county, however, charges membership fees to cover its expenditures. And the county government and county agricultural commission recently conducted an evaluation session to award US$604 to each of the top 12 associations that achieved good results in providing information services. In general, whether the development and operation of the station/spot is supported by government funding or by self-raised funds, a shortage of financial resources is a common problem and hinders the delivery of information service.

[3] The official exchange rate was roughly 8.3 Yuan Renminbi to US$1 in 2002.
[4] A "dragonhead enterprise" refers to a leading enterprise of agricultural industrialization that is supported by development policies. If we call an industry a dragon, the development of the industry itself and the smallholder farmer households are believed to benefit from one or a number of large-scale, economically powerful, competitive and technologically advanced enterprises, or dragonheads, to take the lead.
[5] "Five ones" standard ("six ones", "seven ones") means the number of conditions that must be met before a county or township information station can be set up. Document No. 11 of 2002 of the Ministry of Agriculture requires that county information service stations must not be lower than the "five ones" standard, which means that the centre must contain a computer and printer, a designated telephone line, one to two full-time or part-time workers, a human organization network and management and service regulations. Localities also have proposed different standards according to the local conditions, such as a designated room for a computer (a room on the street side to receive farmers) and a bulletin board.
[6] There are records for each consultation in information service organizations at all levels. The contents of the record include the time of consultation, the name of information seeker, his/her telephone number and the issue; as well, the name of the responder, the time and concrete content of the reply is recorded. This record is to facilitate similar questions in the future.
[7] Information service organizations in rural areas produce cards containing, in brief format, updates on technology, policies and other practical information that farmers need to know. The card is distributed to farmers for convenient use. Farmers call it a "clear card" because the information appears clearly.
[8] Yeast Project in Wuhu county, Anhui province, is a project approach to promote agricultural structure adjustment and farmers' income growth. A number of farmer households with good skills in production, management and in using science and technology are selected as demonstration households (yeast) to lead others to adjust agricultural structure and to increase production and income through guidance, service and incentives.

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