Mainland farmers learned this week what the much-touted third plenum of the 16th party congress meant for them - greater protection from unscrupulous officials and developers. The rural land acquisition system would be overhauled next year to give farmers more protection and address grievances arising from land disputes, Xinhua said yesterday. Protection of land topped the five policies announced on Tuesday by Premier Wen Jiabao at a meeting in Beijing to spell out what the government planned to do for farmers and agriculture. The policies deal with protecting farmers' land, cutting agricultural taxes, adjusting the composition of the farm sector, increasing the use of science and technology in farming and raising investment in infrastructure in rural areas. The policies are the result of decisions adopted at last week's plenum in Beijing. Tuesday's meeting followed protests and petitions from farmers who complained that local officials were taking away their land without proper compensation. They accused officials of colluding with developers and selling their land rights to them for huge profits. Farmers are not allowed to sell their land privately. Farmland is owned collectively by local units such as village committees and converting land for other uses must be approved by local offices of the Ministry of Land and Resources. Tuesday's meeting also coincided with reports that Minister of Land and Resources Tian Fengshan has been suspended for alleged corruption. Li Ping, the Beijing representative of the Rural Development Institute, a US-based non-governmental organisation, believes the authorities will amend the law and remove the ceiling on compensation for farmers. Under the 1998 Land Management Law, the maximum amount of compensation and resettlement subsidies is 30 times the average annual production value of the farmland in the preceding three years. Professor Li said the ceiling was outrageously low. 'The production value for each mu [.067 hectares] of land can range from 800 yuan to 1,000 yuan [HK$742 to HK$940],' he said. 'Even in the perfect situation when local officials give farmers the maximum amount of compensation, a farmer receives no more than 30,000 yuan (HK$28,200). 'However, the price of land - say for a piece of land in a Beijing suburb - can reach 600,000 yuan per mu and over 100,000 yuan in small counties. This means farmers face great losses in losing their land.'