Nearly half of farmers can't prove land rights

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 January, 2009, 12:00am

Sino-US study reveals rural reform hurdle

Nearly half of the mainland's farmers have no legal documents to prove their land rights, a Sino-US joint study has found, revealing what could be a major hurdle to Beijing's ambitious rural land reform.

The finding appears to contradict the central government's assertion that 90 per cent of farmers have obtained certificates for their contracted farmland.

If the study is indicative of the whole country, it means trouble for law changes that allow farmers to lease their contracted land or transfer their land-use rights, moves aimed at doubling rural incomes by 2020.

The survey, conducted by the Rural Development Institute partners at Michigan University in the United States and China's Renmin University, found that only 59 per cent of interviewees had received certificates or contracts relating to their land rights, according to mainland magazine Caijing.

The survey covered 1,773 households in 1,656 villages last summer across 17 provinces that are considered key agricultural bases.

Of the 59 per cent, 12 per cent said they had contracts for their farmland, 15 per cent said they had certificates relating to contracted land-management rights and 32 per cent said they had both.

The land-rights contracts are signed by farmers and their villages as proof land has been allocated to them. The certificates are issued by the government to confirm the deal.

Farmland on the mainland is collectively owned although farmers are allocated plots under long-term leases that typically last 30 years. In October, Beijing changed laws to allow farmers to subcontract, lease or exchange their land-use rights.

But without a contract and certificate, such ventures would be impossible, according to Wang Xiaoying , a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Rural Development Research Centre.

'This will certainly affect the implementation of the policy [of farmland reform],' he said.

Professor Wang said a lack of legal awareness was common among mainland farmers, who relied on friendship and family ties.

'Most of them don't think these documents are useful or important,' he said. 'They think it's fine to lease or subcontract their land without signing a contract because they know each other.'

Yu Jianrong , also from the academy, said many farmers did not think the documents were important because land rights had not been protected in the past.

'The farmers I talked to said the contract meant nothing to them because the government could still seize their land even if they had it,' Professor Yu said.

The survey found that Guangxi had issued the least contracts, with less than 10 per cent of interviewees in the province having one.

Poor harvest

A survey has contradicted the government's claim that 90 per cent of farmers can verify their land rights

The survey places the ratio at: 59%