China’s Other Bitter Harvest

, Heather Latham, Leave a comment

In China there is a serious divide between those that live in urban areas and those that live in rural areas, according to a study by Roy Prosterman, Chair Emeritus, Rural Development Institute, and Zhu Keliang, East Asia Program Manager, Rural Development Institute. Prosterman and Zhu explained their study at a Cato Institute event on April 6. They argued that the way to find economic stability and growth for farmers in these rural areas is “secure, long-term land rights.”

Prosterman started by comparing Chinese farmers to those in other countries in the area, such as Taiwan. When doing his study, he found that “every farmer we interviewed had a car, almost every farmer had a computer, almost every farmer had investments on the stock market… They lived in very nice, solid, brick houses… And these were on very small farms.”

However, the story on mainland China is very different. Of the 750 million people living on the mainland, Prosterman found that “only a minority is urban,” and the “prosperity is very largely urban” also. The problems of land rights for rural farmers can be put into four categories. Prosterman lists these as separate slides in his slideshow:

1. “Incomplete Issuance of Land Documents”
2. “You May Farm the Land for 30 Years…Or Until a Land Readjustment”
3. “You May Farm the Land for 30 Years…Or until a Land-taking by State”
4. “Poor Awareness of Good Laws and Policies”

The slideshow says, “59% of rural households have been issued [a] contract, certificate, or both” “[b]ut 41% still lack any document,” and “[o]f the issued documentation, the vast majority fails to record [the] wife’s name as an equal right-holder.”

Although the law agrees that farmers can work the land for 30 years, that does not necessarily mean it is safe: “Since 30-year-rights [were] introduced, 34% of villages have carried out readjustments (or ‘reallocations’) of farmers’ landholdings; [a] vast majority of them [have been found to be] illegal.”

Another problem farmers face is having their land taken away for non-agricultural purposes. “29% of farmers say that their villages have experienced a land-taking,” and “[m]ore than 2/3 of farmers were dissatisfied with [the] compensation” they received. “On average, the per-hectare compensation paid to collectives is six times what is paid to land-losing farmers.”

The fourth problem Prosterman pointed out is that the public does not know the laws. Prosterman points out that the laws themselves are good, but without public knowledge of them, they cannot protect the people. While “64% have heard of the 2002 Rural Land Contracting Law” only “39% have heard of the campaign to restrict land-takings for non-agricultural purposes.”

Prosterman argued that “when rights are secure, farmers invest.” He found, “The rate of investments made by farmers without any document [is] 21%,” while “[t]he rate of investments made by farmers with both contract and certificate [is] 31%.” He also found that “[l]ocal publicity of land rights is also correlated to investments made.”

Zhu found that there are two major policy announcements that need to be made. First, they need to “[r]ide on the momentum created by recent policy announcements that farmers’ land rights will not only be for 30 years, but also will ‘remain unchanged for a long term,’ moving closer to ‘perpetual’ rights.” The second announcement has to do with implementation of law and policy. Zhu listed “six measures as having high priority.”

1. “Allow automatic renewals of the present 30-year term”
2. “End all land readjustments”
3. “Empower farmers with knowledge through grassroots publicity”

4. “Issue land documents to all farmers”

5. “Reform the land-takings regime”
6. Assure “legal equality of [land] rights [as] women’s land rights are typically not referred to in land documents”

Zhu pointed out that this is not just important for China. He said that only 15% of consumers are being tapped in China right now. Too few people have enough money to be consumers. His slideshow concludes, “Imagine what an increase in income for 750 million people, when given secure land rights, would mean for the global economy?”

Heather Latham is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.

 

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