According to Wei, although the total number of rural labourers employed in urban areas increased 3.6 per cent in 2008 by 4.78 million, it was still 2.4 per cent less than the previous year and represented the slowest growth since 2000.

The new plan calls for providing subsidies to farmers for farm equipment and improving methods of planting rice, wheat, corn, cotton, rapeseed and soybean.

The Chinese government will also guarantee a minimum purchase price for grain in order to ensure reserves are maintained as well as keeping rural incomes stable.

Officials also hope a $585bn stimulus package announced earlier this year will help alleviate the jobless situation.

Social unrest fears

Beijing is trying to avert social unrest in the wake of the global economic crisis [Reuters]
China's leaders are worried that rising unemployment and social discontent as a result of the slowdown could spark unrest and are promising to spend heavily to create jobs.

At the end of last year China's registered urban jobless rate, the only official record of unemployment in the country, rose to 4.2 per cent – up for four per cent three months earlier, the first rise in five years and the highest level since June 2006.

Analysts however say the real figure is much higher because many of the country's more than 200 million rural migrant workers are not included in the count.

Maintaining stability is a prime concern for the Chinese government, with officials fearful that discontent over job losses, government corruption a widening wealth gap and other social issues could trigger protests that could challenge their continued grip on power.