"All of society should energetically support rural development," said the chinese Prime Minister in his recent annual report to the National People's Congress, the parliament.
But initial figures provided by Mr Wen and a separate report by the finance ministry showed that in spite of its domestic political importance, the government proposed to allocate only modest spending increases to rural areas.
Home to about two thirds of China's 1.3bn people, rural areas will receive Rmb339.7bn ($42.3bn) this year from central government expenditure, an increase of about 14 per cent from last year and equal to the rise in the military budget. The increase is likely to fall behind the rate of growth in central government tax revenues, which rose by 20 per cent in 2005 year on year.
Conflict between farmers and local governments, mainly over the confiscation of land, has increased the political importance of lifting farm incomes and grain production.
"Many long-standing and deep-seated conflicts have yet to be fundamentally solved and new problems have arisen that cannot be ignored," Mr Wen said. China is also concerned that the continued loss of scarce arable land to industry will leave it dependent on grain imports. "This poses a threat to the nation's food security," Mr Wen said.
China's main economic priority is the maintenance of high-speed economic growth, with Mr Wen saying the government had set a target this year of an 8.0 per cent rise in gross domestic product. This is well behind last year's 9.9 per cent rise in GDP and is less than most banks' forecasts.
FT Syndication Service