Rural land reforms should be 'gradual', top mainland policymaker says

Policymaker supports measured approach to proposal to allow farmers to sell plots, saying protections of agricultural land must stand firm

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 4:16am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 4:16am

A top rural policymaker has played down expectations that the government will swiftly relax the rules for selling homes and farmland in less developed areas.

The comments by Chen Xiwen , deputy chief of the Communist Party's main agriculture advisory group, came after the Central Committee pledged to advance land reforms.

A resolution issued after the committee's third plenum in Beijing last month raised hopes that the central government may soon allow farmers to trade or mortgage the land reserved for their homes, as well as allowing agricultural plots to be sold the same way they are sold in urban areas.

However, Chen, who has been a key rural development policymaker for more a decade, denied such speculation in a lengthy interview published in the People's Daily yesterday.

Trial schemes should be conducted in small-scale pilot studies and there must be a measured approach to mortgaging land for rural homes, he said.

Only rural land already designated for industrial or commercial use should be traded in the market, he said.

"Land reform should be introduced in a gradual manner," Chen said.

He added any changes should adhere to guidance given by President Xi Jinping during a tour in Shandong province last week.

"[Reforms] should follow the plan of the central authorities, local authorities should not jump the gun," he said.

The government wants to give farmers a greater ability to sell or lease their land. Rural land on the mainland has been collectively owned with rural workers unable to sell the plots they work.

Chen told the top Communist Party paper that the government had agreed three basic principles on land reform.

"First, the collective ownership of rural land must not be changed; second, the purpose of the land must not be changed: farmland should remain for rural uses; and third, reforms must not harm farmers' basic benefits and rights," he said.

Several provinces have rushed to launch their own land-reform schemes since the third plenum.

Anhui began reform projects in 20 districts and counties in mid-November.

Nanchang , capital of Jiangxi province, has set up a rural land-transaction exchange and will allow two counties to sell rural plots by the end of the year.

The mainland has about 120 million hectares of farmland and the government has said it must be protected to ensure the nation's supply of grain.

Li Jingguo, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said: "Land reform is fundamental as it concerns a lot of key issues, including grain safety, farmers' income and future models of urbanisation.

"The central government might be worried some local governments might rush to roll out reforms. Once the changes are made, you would need to double efforts to correct them," Li said.

The Politburo on Tuesday promised to highlight awareness of land reforms and their importance to the country's economic and social development.