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Chinese farmers to till Kazak land

China has a surplus of rural workers.
China has a surplus of rural workers.

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BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- China, whose enormous population and dearth of farmland have sown fears it will drain world food supplies, plans to send 3,000 farmers to till land in the vast neighboring Central Asian state of Kazakhstan.

China has signed a deal to rent 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of arable land in the Kazak county of Alakol for 10 years, starting in the (northern) spring, the official China Daily said on Thursday.

It did not say when the agreement was signed or how much would be paid in rent.

About 3,000 Chinese farmers would grow soybeans and wheat and breed animals on the land, which has been mostly deserted since the 1990s, Sulitang Dosimuhan, an official in the Yili Kazak Prefecture of China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, was quoted as saying.

Yili, which neighbors Alakol, had a surplus rural workforce with 1.7 million farmers tilling just 266,600 hectares of arable land, said Dosimuhan, the deputy chief of the prefecture's agricultural bureau.

China, the world's most populous nation with 1.3 billion people, has sought to allay world fears that it will not be able to feed itself and will need to import food, draining world supplies.

China and Kazakhstan share a 1,500 kilometer (940-mile) border and have stepped up cooperation in recent years on a range of issues, including a Chinese government crackdown on exiled pro-independence Muslim militants of the Uighur ethnic group.

Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Kazakhstan in June in a sign of warming ties between the neighbors, both members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization along with Russia and three other ex-Soviet Central Asian states.

The group held its first joint anti-terrorism exercises in China and Kazakhstan in August.

China, facing soaring energy demand as its economy booms, is thirsty for oil from Kazakhstan, one of the world's fastest growing oil regions.

The state-owned China National Petroleum Corp is the majority shareholder in Kazakhstan's third biggest oil producer.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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