China has relaxed rules to allow farmers to transfer their land rights to help promote more efficient, large-scale farms, amid an exodus of farm workers to the cities. The authorities on Sunday recommended separating various rights to rural land, which they say would improve land circulation, increase farmers’ incomes, and contribute to the development of modern agriculture. China’s Agriculture Minister Han Changfu told a news conference on Thursday that the separation of rural land ownership rights, contracted rights and operating rights is a key reform step. “This helps guide the orderly transfer of land operating rights and lays a system foundation for appropriate-scale agricultural operations in development and modern agriculture,” he said. The step would help improve land and labour efficiency in the farm sector, he said, but farmers would not be forced to transfer their land rights. Time to unlock rights to rural land: China’s finance minister Farmland in China is collectively owned and farmers only have the right to contract and use the land. Many rural migrant workers have leased out their land to those who stay in the countryside or to commercial entities. More than 30 per cent of rural land has already been leased to others to operate, Han said. Chinese farmers still cannot sell their land rights freely and the lack of clear rights makes many farmers vulnerable to land grabs by local administrations for development. A programme to issue certificates confirming rights to land has covered 60 per cent of farmland. Symbol of China’s rural democracy: five years of struggle in Wukan land grab protests Han said the guidelines would also better protect the rights of those that lease and operate the land from farmers, helping to encourage more investment in more efficient and productive agriculture. The priority for the world’s most populous country is to ensure enough land and rural labour to maintain food security. Land reform and household registration are two key issues if China is to succeed in its plan to get 100 million migrants to settle in cities by 2020. China’s leaders aim for 60 per cent of the population of almost 1.4 billion to be living in cities by 2020, turning millions of rural dwellers into consumers who could be a driving force for the world’s second-largest economy.