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Yearender: China boosts land transfers to ensure better life for farmers
enorth.com.cn   2008-12-17 10:00


Farmers work on their land in Heilongjiang Province, Northeast China.

(Xinhua)After washing the dishes, the old lady decided to nap on the sofa, while her husband went for a stroll.

Such a life in a second-floor apartment in the seat of Huaming township, Tianjin, was beyond the imagination of 72-year-old Bo Jinsheng several years ago, when she was still in the countryside.

There, she would fill her stove with grass before setting a pan to cook on it, and she faced the prospect of having her land deserted as she aged.

"It (the new apartment) is convenient and the neighborhood environment is good," she said, smiling.

Bo is among the 36,000 beneficiaries in 12 Huaming villages of farmland transfers, which were endorsed by the landmark policy issued by the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the third plenary session of the 17th CPC Central Committee.

Under the policy, farmers may "lease their contracted farmland or transfer their land use rights" to boost farm production and provide funds for them to start new businesses.

In October 2005, Huaming was selected as a pilot site for exchanging rural residential land for urban apartments.

Bo had 0.4 ha of arable land, but both her daughter and son had gone to work in cities. The old couple faced abandoning their land.

In exchange for her former residential land of about 95 sq m, Bo gained an apartment about the same size in the seat of the township. Her farmland was leased to someone else to grow rice, from whom she could earn 2,400 yuan (about 353 U.S. dollars) a year.

The exchange didn't cost the old couple anything; it was paid for by the local government.

According to Zhang Changhe, Party secretary of Huaming township, from the exchange 12 villages gained 243 ha of land that was formerly useless, having been neither arable nor residential land.

A survey showed that 95.3 percent of the villagers were satisfied with the exchange.

"I exchanged an earthen house for a 66-square-meter apartment," said Zhao Jiagui from Zhaozhuang village. "I didn't expect to be so lucky."

Like Tianjin, other regions -- including the northeastern Heilongjiang Province, the eastern Anhui Province and the southern Guangdong Province -- had trial land use transfers ahead of the CPC policy this past October.

"This breakthrough ... meets the needs of industrialization and urbanization at the current stage," said Xu Xianglin, an economics professor at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

In the past, farmland was collectively owned and leased to farmers under long-term contracts. But with rapid economic development, more farmers left their land to work in cities.

Ministry of Agriculture statistics show that there are about 126 million such migrant workers. Some temporarily entrusted or lent their land to others, but without the proper policies, their rights were at risk.

"Regulating land use transfers with the policy helps the sustainable development of agriculture in China," said Dai Guopei, a 40-year-old farmer in Jiangxi. Through the policy, he contracted93.3 ha of land, which brings him an annual profit of some 600,000to 700,000 yuan.

Yin Xiaojian, research fellow with the Research Institute of Rural Economy under the Jiangxi Province Academy of Social Sciences, said the policy was a must for agricultural modernization, as long as some conditions were met.

"The function of the land, the farmer's rights and the characteristics of collectively owned land shouldn't be changed," he said.

There are wide concerns of farmland being converted to other uses after transfers. Such concerns have already become reality in some places.

In Beijing, a mountainous village in Pinggu district is soon to auction more than 600 hectares of its land for tourism development. The auctioneer advertises it as the "first auction of land transfer".

According to report of the Beijing News, some 40 households in the Liangzhuangzi village have voted in favor of the auction. The plot of land include 10 percent arable land and 90 percent wasteland.

"It has no difference from real estate development," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist with the Beijing Renmin University.

The government has realized the potential threat to food security in a country, where the per capita arable land is far less than the world average and where more and more farmlands are giving way to factories, roads and other facilities.

On Nov. 19, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC and the Ministry of Supervision jointly issued a circular, in which they discussed plans to address problems that harmed farmers' interests.

"We will supervise the parties in such cases so that the ownership of land and the way it is used do not change and farmers' legal rights to the land are intact," the circular said.

The first rural land exchange agency was set up in the southwestern Chongqing municipality on Dec. 4.

While it is too early to see the full effect of these new policies, experts noted that the key point was that farmers' rights were ensured.

"Now that China has achieved fast development, it is time that farmers, who made great contributions to the economic miracle, share the fruit with urban citizens," said Xu.


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Editor: Zhang Jialu

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