HEFEI, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- Rice-grower Liu Xuye, 55, never expected a dividend of over 2,600 yuan (412 U.S. dollars) for his less-than-one-year participation in a local co-operative for rice production.
Liu joined the co-operative by investing 25,000 yuan early last year and received in return the dividend plus a service pack that included discounted seeds and a favorable purchasing price for his output.
The pack enabled Liu to gain 1,400 yuan more for the autumn harvest season than those outside the co-operative.
The annual income per capita for farmers in the less developed Anhui Province was 6,232 yuan in 2011.
Liu is among millions of Anhui farmers who have benefited from joining specialized co-operatives.
By 2011, 2.6 million households, or 18.7 percent in rural Anhui, had joined farming co-operatives in some specialized fields, including rice and grape growing as well as pig raising.
The number increased by 44 percent from 1.8 million in 2010.
As one of China's 13 major grain-growing provinces, Anhui produces about 5.5 percent of the national total grain output.
To ensure grain production and boost farmers' incomes, the provincial agriculture authorities planned half of the rural households by 2015 to be part of specialized co-operatives and online sell 30 percent of their agricultural output.
It was believed that joining specialized co-operatives could help farmers get access to modern farming equipment and increase their incomes about 20 percent above those not within co-operatives.
However, not everyone was enthusiastic about participation.
Some villagers had little confidence in "co-operative farming" as they still remembered the suffering after establishment of collective farming organizations in the 1960s and 1970s.
China once used political means to promote collective farming, creating "people's communes" for farmers to live and work together. The mechanism featured egalitarian in distribution, but resulted in reduced agricultural output.
In the early 1980s, China introduced a household responsibility system, which distributed land to farmers and allowed them to manage their own production. The fragmentation of farmland, however, complicated the use of modern machinery and curbed the development of large-scale farming.
Moreover, individual farmers were prone to buying fake seeds and over-priced fertilizers. They also had less bargaining power with suppliers and buyers as well as little access to loans, said Yuan Peng, a researcher at the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Therefore, specialized co-operatives have emerged to protect farmers interests.
The rice co-operative Liu joined was jointly established in 2001 by a semi-official agricultural technology office, a leading rice processing company and 218 households in nearby villages.
Founding director Min Xueren noted that the co-operative successfully linked farmers to purchasers for shared interests and risks.
By 2011, the co-operative had coordinated rice production on 4,433 hectares of farmland for over 6,000 households, Min said, estimating the total benefit that farmers had received from the co-operative at 30 million yuan.
The Ministry of Agriculture said China had registered 484,300 rural co-operatives, covering 38.7 million households or 15.5 percent of China's rural population by September 2011.
The ministry also planned to train 15,000 specialized people for co-operatives in the coming decade and introduce more favorable policies for establishment and operation of such co-operatives.
The latest major policy shift was reassured in December 2011 at the central economic work conference, the most important economic policy-making event held each year.
By "encouraging the development of specialized farming co-operatives," the central government pledged to offer farmers better services for low-cost production.