President Xi Jinping hinted yesterday at the direction of long-awaited rural land reform, saying China would likely stick to the collective rural land ownership system and focus on how to better compensate farmers whose land is seized.
After being briefed on rural land-use rights, Xi said during a visit to Hubei's rural land rights exchange centre in Wuhan that Beijing would research the issue and take those findings into consideration when deciding on the reforms.
Xi said there were still questions as to how to amend the system while still adhering to the collective land ownership system in rural areas.
Issues to consider, he said, included not only ensuring that there was enough farmland and grain security, but also increasing farmers' incomes through legal land rights transfers.
"Many questions [in this area] need to be thoroughly studied as part of the upcoming reforms," Xi said.
Li Guoxiang, a research fellow with the Rural Development Research Institute under China's Academy of Social Science, said the comments "indicate that China will soon push forwards with plans to reform its land system".
"Judging from what Xi said, China will adhere to the current collective rural land ownership system, while at the same time trying to amend loopholes in the system," Li said.
"There will not be any big changes to the current system."
Instead, China would focus on how to better compensate farmers who sold their land-use rights to others.
Fast urbanisation has led to more and more farmers leaving rural areas and becoming landless workers in cities. Modern agricultural production has also required the merger of scattered farmland.
"This has led to an increasing number of landless farmers," said a researcher with the Rural Economy Research Institute under the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences who declined to give her name.
Agricultural Minister Han Changfu estimated on Sunday that China has about 200 million farmers who are planning on leaving their plots.
They could have a lot of trouble making a living if they are not properly compensated or covered by social insurance.
"One previous rule says farmers are to be compensated with 30 times the average annual income they earned from their farmland, after it is lost," the researcher said. "But this compensation is too low now. Different cities need to work out different compensation standards to protect the farmers' interest."