Watchdog set up to stop rampant illegal conversion of farmland

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2006, 12:00am

Mainland officials are setting up a 360-strong inspection team to monitor rural land conversion in the face of estimates that another 15 million farmers could lose their land by 2010.

The central-government-funded land watchdog will be headed by the minister of land and resources. A full-time deputy chief inspector of vice-ministerial rank will also be appointed to co-ordinate and supervise nine land inspection bureaus to be established in Beijing, Shenyang , Shanghai, Nanjing , Jinan, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Chengdu and Xian .

Each bureau would be assigned responsibility for three to four provinces or municipalities, and would monitor conversions and government acquisitions of rural land, said a State Council circular dated July 13 posted on the central government's website yesterday.

The key responsibilities of the bureaus will include identifying illegal conversion of rural land to non-agricultural use and whether local governments are maintaining an appropriate level of farmland according to the targets set by the central government.

Provincial or municipal government approval is required to convert rural land to non-agricultural use, while approval from the State Council is required for conversion of basic farmland for other uses.

But Zhang Xinbao , director of the law enforcement and supervision bureau with the Ministry of Land and Resources, has told mainland media that 12,241.7 hectares of rural land was illegally converted to non-agricultural use in the first five months of this year, 20 per cent more than in the same period last year.

In some cities, illegal land conversions were so rampant that they took up 90 per cent of the new land acquired, he said.

To ensure the integrity of inspectors, they will not be assigned to provinces where they used to work and will be regularly rotated to different areas.

The bureaus will have no right to approve any land use plan or punish local government officials and must forward cases to the Ministry of Supervision if they spot any violations of central government policies.

The new system is being put in place because the central government is worried about China's grain security due to the rapid loss of farmland.

In a separate report posted on the same government website, an unidentified Ministry of Labour and Social Security official said 3 million farmers were expected to lose their land every year during the 11th Five-Year Programme. Forty million had already lost their land in the past 10 years, the ministry official said.

The central government hoped to reduce the number of disgruntled landless farmers by providing vocational training and offering them low-interest micro-credit loans, he said.

Li Ping , who represents the Seattle-based Rural Development Institute in China, said inspectors should also monitor 'legal' land conversions and acquisitions to ensure farmers were paid according to state regulations because that was the key source of many disputes.