According to PROZIPCODES, this sector of the economy still absorbs four-fifths of the workforce, despite the advancement of other activities. Its development was led by the government first through the reform of the social organization, which led to the popular communes, then to the technical transformation. The organizational basis of the Chinese countryside is the people’s commune, established in 1958 as an evolution of the cooperatives. First experimented in Hunan, the communes quickly spread across the country. Apart from 2400 state farms, the entire agricultural and forestry territory has been divided between the municipalities. They were initially 26,000, and then became 24,000 with some territorial adjustments. After 1961, during the years of the agrarian crisis, it was realized that the dimensions of many municipalities were excessive; a downsizing was carried out and the average extension was reduced, allowing easier management to technicians and local administrators, often inexperienced. Today they are about 74,000 and each comprises on average ten of the old cooperatives; general jurisdiction has been added to the management of the business economy in various sectors (eg militia, education), for which the municipalities are also territorial administrative districts. They comprise one hundred million hectares of arable land with over 500 million people. The dimensions vary, from the crowded suburban units (30-40,000 residents) To the semi-deserted ones of the mountains and steppes; each has an average surface area of 1300 hectares and 7000 residents. After 1961 many of the administrative powers and responsibilities were decentralized and entrusted to lower units, the brigades, which are smaller communities: the brigade owns the land and is in turn divided into production teams. The team is the smallest unit, corresponding to the small homogeneous village made up of a few dozen families.
Private property is very limited and consists of consumer goods and clothing, personal savings, trees around the house, small tools, small livestock. The peasants cultivate the small piece of personal land in the hours free from collective work, but the extension of these small fields is a few square meters, much less than what the peasants of the Soviet kolkhoz have available.
Technical promotion was framed in a series of eight different initiatives aimed at general agricultural development. They are exposed in a document, the “Charter of the eight points”, propagated and explained practically in the countryside in recent years. The eight different activities are as follows: irrigation and water conservation, fertilizer production and use, deep plowing, seed selection, dense sowing, plant protection, tool improvement, administrative technique. The construction of major irrigation and water conservation works has slowed down in recent years. During the period of the difficult years, ie the agricultural crisis of 1960-62, and also in the following years, efforts were concentrated on ordinary jobs. The works of correction, adjustment and repair have prevailed over new buildings and small scale constructions have undergone a boost. Large state jobs are proceeding more slowly, while those on a local basis, within the municipalities or districts, have multiplied, having as their main investment the workforce alone. There are numerous wells and small dams, reforestation is intense, as well as leveling, draining and reclamation of marshes, always on a small scale. The purpose of this style change is to obtain rapid benefits without having to face large expenses, which was impossible at least in the years immediately following the crisis. However, some major works are not lacking, such as the Liuchiahsia dam, on the Yellow River near Lanchou, built in 1968, and the new embankments on the lower course of the same river, in the Shantung, to protect the hanging bed. After irrigation, the most important problem is finding and using the correct amount of fertilizers. Much of the cultivated land is currently subjected to intense exploitation and continuous production for several centuries. The effort made to maintain productivity at constant levels has been incessant, with the consequence of having placed a strong obstacle in the way of increasing yields, an obstacle made insuperable by the use of natural fertilizer, which has always been used. Today there are about twenty large and medium-sized factories for the production of chemical fertilizers, of which more than half were opened after 1963; alongside them, many small factories have come into operation, in the municipalities themselves, where nitrogen is mainly produced; however the production is still far from the need. The mechanization effort is significant and the size of the tractor fleet has grown steadily: from 24,000 units in 1957 it has risen to 59,000 in 1959, to 100,000 units in 1963 and 135,000 in 1965. Despite this, it is still far from sufficient degree of mechanization and the manual work and simple tools of always remain of fundamental importance.
In 1970 the cultivated area reached 120 million hectares, the vast majority (over 75%) dedicated to cereals. Among these, rice, the most important component of the diet of most Chinese, occupies 22% of the sown area; but also wheat, sorghum and millet acquire great importance in the north and north-east, regions disadvantaged by the long winter. Precisely to increase the scarce northern food resources, wheat is expanding its area (24.2 million ha) and its derivatives (pasta, steamed bread) are increasingly entering the diet of the North Chinese.