China\'s top banking regulator on Thursday called for banks to lend more to rural areas to help the countryside develop faster and narrow its rural-urban gap. The China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) required banks and financial institutions to grant more loans to agriculture-related sectors, saying the current credit supply for the countryside remains insufficient and that it is hard for farmers to access bank loans. Banks were told by the CBRC that they must ensure the growth of loans to farmers, agriculture-related sectors or in rural areas is no lower than the average loan growth. The regulator said it would encourage banks and financial institutions to accept more qualified assets as collateral for loans to rural areas, including forest ownership. According to the CBRC, it will work with the country\'s insurance regulatory authority to make credit more accessible for residents of rural areas by introducing insurance bought by rural borrowers as a key reference in granting rural credit lines. As of the end of February this year, outstanding loans to rural areas by Chinese banks and financial institutions rose 19.7 percent from a year earlier to 18.1 trillion yuan (2.9 trillion U.S. dollars), 3.8 percentage points higher than the average loan growth, according to CBRC data.