Benefits of land-transfer experiment slow to take root

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 October, 2008, 12:00am

Some farmers regret 'leasing' properties for meagre rents

Every day, Yu Xueyang , a 59-year-old farmer from Qilin village in Chongqing's Shijie county, can look out from his house and see the land that has been taken away from him.

The land was taken last year for a tangerine orchard in an experimental rural land-transfer - China's equivalent of a land sale - although much of it remains idle.

Qilin village is one of the earliest rural land-transfer experiments in Chongqing, with arable land first being taken from farmers for a tangerine orchard in 2005. In return, farmers were given a meagre annual rent and promised a share of any future profits.

Mr Yu received about 300 yuan (HK$340) last year, but has not been paid anything this year.

The farmers know the risk is high, but they have little say over how much their land is leased for. Some have refused the offer, but so far, there have been no reports of forced acquisitions.

'It will take three to four years for the trees to bear fruit. I don't see any benefit because we can only have a bonus when the orchard is profitable,' Mr Yu said. 'My land could produce several hundred kilograms of grain every year if it was not taken over.'

Qilin village is a showcase for Chongqing's rural land-transfer experiment and state media have heaped praise on farmers who traded their land for shares in the orchard.

To promote economies of scale in agriculture and to give farmers a source of cash income, Chongqing, along with other provinces and municipalities such as Guangdong, Zhejiang and Tianjin , has launched its own version of the experiment, allowing farmers to transfer their land-use rights.

Land sales are not permitted on the mainland because rural land is collectively owned and farmers are given rights to use the land only for agricultural purposes.

But officials admit the stakes in the orchard project are high - Shijie county party secretary Yang Tongsheng told The Southern Weekend last year: 'These days, people come to me even if they are bitten by dogs. If anything happens to the land, they will surely lay siege to the county government.'

Huang Shucheng , another farmer in Qilin village, said he would not join the programme because much of the acquired land was lying idle.

Some farmers in the village said local officials had exaggerated the area of land taken for the orchard to receive more government subsidies.

In Qinghe village, Jiulongpo district - another Chongqing government pilot project site - some farmers traded their land-use rights for old-age pensions.

The land is highly valued because Jiulongpo is close to Chongqing's city centre and the land is fertile.

The government is taking land from the farmers for a massive flower farm and exhibition project.

In return, farmers are given a meagre rent equivalent to the cost of 700kg of grain for every 0.06 hectares of land they lease to the enterprise, while elderly farmers are entitled to the pension.

On average, farmers received 500 to 700 yuan a year, depending on the size of their plot and grain prices, they said.

Elderly farmers in the programme had to pay a one-off fee of 5,000 to 7,000 yuan before they were entitled to 208 yuan a month from the scheme.

But Bai Yongfu , a 77-year-old farmer, still thinks it is worthwhile because he is too old to farm. 'The one-off payment pays off after two years,' he said.

Not every villager agreed.

Gao Shicheng , 58, said he regretted signing the agreement to lease his arable and residential land to the horticulture business.

'I'd rather have my land and my house,' he said.

Wang Yonghui , 67, also from Qinghe, said the maths was simple.

'If the price is good, then I am willing. But the price is not good.'

Setting sun?

A plan to be discussed at this week's party plenary session could reverse the mainland's land-division reforms implemented 30 years ago

Size of rural population: 737m

Number of migrant workers: 131.81m

Size of arable land: 121.7m ha

Official bottom line for arable land: 120m ha

Rural residents' per capita disposable income: 4,140 yuan

Urban residents' per capita disposable income: 13,786 yuan

Land reform milestones

Dec 1978

Xiaogang village in Anhui province takes lead in implementing agricultural household responsibility system, the socalled 'Dabaogan'

Jan 1983

Policy of household production applied to almost every family in rural areas, contributing to emergence of township enterprises

Jan 1984

Central government allows peasants to work in urban areas, removing limits preventing rural residents taking jobs in cities

April 1993

Introduction of agriculture industrialisation policy triggers rapid development of township enterprises

Oct 1998

Communist Party plenary session decides to establish long-term goal of building 'new socialist countryside with Chinese characteristics'

Oct 2008

President Hu Jintao visits Xiaogang and states that peasants will be allowed to transfer land contracts and management rights in various ways