Farmers to get land leases past 30 years

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 October, 2008, 12:00am

The central government will revise laws to allow farmers to continue using the land contracted to them beyond the current 30-year term, the country's top rural policymaker says.

However, Chen Xiwen , director of the central government's rural work office, yesterday ruled out the possibility of lifting the restrictions for farmers to use their farmland and house site contracts as collateral for bank loans.

Mr Chen's remark was the first official clarification of the government's stance on the issue, as many rural experts have been expecting the government to eventually remove the ban to make it easier for farmers to borrow.

A document summarising rural policies for the next 12 years adopted by the third plenary session of the Communist Party Central Committee this month said existing farmland contracts should 'remain unchanged for a long time'.

'According to my understanding, 'remain unchanged for a long time' means the contracts will be extended beyond 30 years,' Mr Chen said yesterday in Beijing.

He refused to specify how long the contracts would be extended, but confirmed the National People's Congress would revise the laws.

Farmers have been contracted small plots of farmland since rural communes were dismantled and the household responsibility system was introduced in 1978.

A central government document in 1984 said farmers were allowed to freely operate the land allocated to them for 15 years. The contracts were extended to 30 years in the late 1990s.

However, Mr Chen said the media had misinterpreted the plenum's decision to give farmers the right to trade their farmland, and misconstrued remarks by President Hu Jintao to villagers in Xiaogang, Anhui province on October 1.

Many media reports had interpreted Mr Hu's remark as a signal for another round of land revolution. But Mr Chen said yesterday transfer of land-use rights for agricultural use had been going on for two decades.

But only 5 per cent of farmland contracts were recontracted or swapped as farmers wanted to hold on to the tiny plots they had, he said.

The blueprint endorsed by the Central Committee said the government would expand the range of acceptable collateral from farmers. But Mr Chen said the collateral would not include farmland and house site contracts. House site contracts are usually inherited and are not tradable under mainland law.

When asked how the government would deal with the rampant land disputes caused by seizures of farmland by local officials, Mr Chen said the central government would step up registration of farmland contracts to make sure farmers' land was not swapped or taken by local officials arbitrarily.

Mr Chen said that although the government wanted to promote modernised farming, maintaining rural stability was more important.

'We are giving farmers a stable policy for the long term,' he said.

'We are not forcing farmers off their land and then using their land to promote economic growth. It was not on the agenda when the document was drafted.'

The mainland's rural policies

1 Laws will be amended to extend the terms of existing farmland contracts beyond 30 years

2 Step up registration of rural land contracts to avoid forced seizure of farmland

3 Within the same area, rural land taken over for development or infrastructure construction will have the same value regardless of their usage

4 Relax restriction to allow rural farmers to settle in medium and small cities, but restriction on migration to major cities will remain

5 Sales of farmland are not allowed, but farmers can transfer their land-use rights on voluntary basis

6 Urban outsiders cannot buy the so-called partial property rights from rural farmers

7 Farmland contracts and house site contracts cannot be used as collateral for bank loans