Promoting eco-friendly industries and upgrading technologies for environmental protection are key to the future green development in rural China, an expert said at a forum on Tuesday.
Shi Yulong, president of the China Center for Urban Development at the National Development and Reform Commission, made the remarks during the ongoing annual general meeting of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development.
China's rural population has increased from 484 million in 1949 to 564 million in 2018, excluding migrant workers, Shi said, noting that the key challenge is now the imbalance between urban and rural development, with the latter inadequate.
"According to a policy released by the central government last year, China's rural revitalization needs to be led by the concept of green development, to practice the idea that 'lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets', and adhere to the harmonious development of man and nature," he said.
Bridging the gap between rural and urban areas in China is one of the nation's key policies. Among these gaps, environmental protection is listed in an official five-year plan as the second most important issue to address.
The plan, issued by the central government last year, aims to revitalize rural China in all aspects, including ecology and environment. By 2022, it will form a basic policy system and working method.
To build a greener rural China, the plan focuses on efficient development of agriculture, a cleaner living environment for rural residents and a better ecological environment.
The plan so far has encouraged farmers to involve themselves in more efficient and environmentally-friendly production. For example, farmers now save livestock and poultry excrement for methane gas to use to generate electricity. Other agricultural runoff, such as corn stalks, can also be used to generate power.
Processing residues in this way can make good use of resources and reduce pollution, according to a guideline rolled out from the then Ministry of Agriculture in 2017, which has been renamed the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
The latest data from the ministry show that under the support of the central government, the number of households that use methane for energy has reached some 42 million by the end of 2015, up 62 percent compared with 2005.
A report on green agricultural development released by the ministry in April shows that last year, the fertilizer utilization rate of rice, wheat and corn in China increased to 37.8 percent on average, and the pesticide utilization rate was 38.8 on average. Use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides achieved a net zero growth.
It added that the improvement of the ecosystem in rural areas has progressed steadily, with 25 national aquatic biological nature reserves and 64 marine pasture demonstration areas set up or planned.
The living environment has also improved for rural residents, with 73.9 percent of villages nationwide now having centralized or partially-centralized garbage treatment.
The proportion of villages with centralized or partially-centralized treatment of domestic sewage is 17.4 percent. About half of all rural households used sanitary latrines in 2018, according to the report.
Shi said the concept of green development is growing in popularity in rural areas across the country, adding an improved ecology gives villagers both a better living environment and higher income.
Data from the National Forestry and Grassland Administration show in 2017, China's forestry and its related industry generated more than 7 trillion yuan ($1.01 trillion) in annual output value.
Zhang Jianlong, head of the administration, said that by 2022 it aims to cover 30 percent of rural areas with green plants.
Hainan province is a model. From 2000 to last October, about 18,600 villages on the island province were granted the status of civilized ecological sites, which account for 88 percent of Hainan's total, according to the provincial government.
Hainan has converted some of these villages into tourism spots. It received 9.5 million tourists and earned 2.8 billion yuan in tourism revenue in 2017, up 26 percent year-on-year.
Shi said that despite achievements, there are still challenges.
"By 2018, 26.1 percent of villages' household waste had not been treated and nearly 80 percent of the country's villages still had untreated sewage," he said.
"To face such challenges, the government should keep improving rural infrastructure that affects the quality of people's lives and raise environmental awareness of the public."