The State Council has decided to encourage farmers to transfer land-use rights for farmland, for agricultural use only, by improving information sharing and management by the government, according to a Ministry of Agriculture official. Hu Jianfeng , deputy director of rural economic structures and management, said a recent State Council meeting on agriculture highlighted the importance of improving government services and supervision in order to make sure farmers could transfer their land use rights for agricultural purposes voluntarily. 'If they want to transfer the rights, they should be able to do it. When farmers are not willing to transfer the rights, then they should not be forced to do it,' he said. However, he said there would not be any major changes to the existing laws on the transfer of farmland for agricultural purposes. 'I don't think there is any legal obstacle obstructing the transfer of land use rights [for agricultural purposes] in the current regulation,' he said. The central government is encouraging farmers to transfer land use rights by leasing their land in return for cash or shares in shareholding companies. But such transfers are restricted to agricultural purposes. The government holds a tight grip on the conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses, fearing China might not be able to produce enough food for its vast population. But land disputes are rampant because local officials often flout the regulations and seize farmland and sell it for non-agricultural use. A land official said yesterday the government would raise the compensation paid for land acquisition by the government by 20 per cent to 30 per cent. Liu Mingsong , vice-director of the arable land protection department of the Ministry of Land and Resources, said compensation rates had risen by 40 per cent since 2004. However, he would not say when the new rate would be effective because it would require some time to ensure a smooth transition to the new rate. Both officials declined to say how many protests or petitions were linked to land disputes although they called for better publicity and education to help farmers understand their rights. 'We need to raise awareness of the relevant laws and regulations so that farmers will use lawful channels to uphold their land rights and interests and so that we can properly address these disputes,' Mr Hu said.