Chinese lawmaker makes urgent call for rural land reform
Law needs to be revised to protect shrinking farmland, says top official for rural affairs
Mandy Zuo and Victoria Ruan
The mainland's land requisition system is in dire need of reform as it currently fails to protect farmers' rights, a top rural policymaker said yesterday.
Chen Xiwen, director of the Communist Party's Central Rural Work Leading Group, told an economic forum in Beijing that reform of the land requisition system and the entire rural land system was imperative to protect farmers' rights.
The requisitioning of large areas of rural land and its subsequent inefficient use has been widely criticised by the public, Chen said in a keynote speech at the Caijing Annual Conference.
His remarks follow the State Council's passing of a draft amendment to the Land Administration Law on Wednesday, which is expected to include guidelines on increased compensation for farmers for land that is compulsorily acquired.
At the National Rural Work Conference last December, Premier Wen Jiabao had promised to introduce regulations this year to increase farmers' share of profits from the sale of land. Revising the Land Administration Law was a necessary first step in the process. Professor Zheng Fengtian , from Renmin University's school of agricultural economics and rural development, said the passing of the amendment meant that the regulations were imminent.
He said one-off cash compensation for farmers who had just lost their land should be increased and that they should also be given job opportunities and improved social welfare.
"Compensation for land requisitioned for different purposes, say, for commercial use and for public welfare, should be different," Zheng said.
Existing regulations prescribe that compensation to farmers should be no more than 30 times of the land's average yearly production for the past three years.
Professor Jiang Mingan , of Peking University's law school, said the current laws translated to compensation of less than 100 yuan (HK$123) per square metre of land, based on normal farming income. He suggested that the standard be increased at least tenfold.
Chen said yesterday the key principle of the Land Administration Law revision was to protect the mainland's quickly shrinking area of farmland. He said China needed to grow more than 200 million hectares of crops every year to be self-sufficient in terms of agricultural produce.
"But we have just 160 million hectares [of crops grown every year], which means a 20 per cent gap," he said.
China Securities Regulatory Commission chairman Guo Shuqing also urged land system reform at the conference yesterday, saying it was a major reason the mainland was taking longer than developed countries to close its rural-urban income gap.
He said rights to use rural land should be allowed to be freely traded, so that labour and land in rural areas could be part of the market, as in urban areas.
The mainland's urban population reached 690 million last year, a 50 per cent increase from 460 million in 2000.
It was the first time that the urban population had surpassed that in rural areas.