President Truong Tan Sang has affirmed that the nation's New Model for the Countryside was among the Party's major policies to create fundamental changes in rural development and narrow the gap between urban and rural areas.

He was speaking at a conference held on Jan. 14 to review new rural construction activities in the 2009-10 period.

After three years of implementation, 11 communes in the pilot phase of the programme were already showing positive results, according to Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat.

About 80 percent of rural roads have been upgraded and 60 percent of small alleys have been paved. More than 100 irrigation works received upgrades. Most households have access to electricity for agricultural production and their incomes increased by up to 60 percent.

Total investment for activities in the 11 pilot communes is estimated to be 2.5 trillion VND (120 million USD), of which 31 percent is funded by the State budget. The remainder is contributed locally.

Phat said many communes have formed a practical model for new rural areas although some shortcomings remained: infrastructure development is incomplete, agricultural production proves to be small scale and people still face financial difficulties.

In his conference address, President Sang said the programme has basically achieved the nation's goals. Nine out of the 11 pilot communes have met nine out of 19 criteria for new countryside.

The current model is unsustainable, he said, and stressed that the role of local people should be further promoted in the future.

President Sang noted that some criteria should be re-examined and adjusted to make them suitable for localities and information about the programme should be enhanced to help locals understand that it is a comprehensive economic development programme, not an investment in infrastructure.

The President asked the provincial Party Committees to continue to improve and complete the model.

At the meeting, 10 collectives and 14 individuals were presented with certificates of merit from the Prime Minister for their excellency in contributing to the programme./.