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Rural land reforms to empower farmers

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-02-04 17:38

BEIJING - Chinese farmers are expected to have more say in determining the destiny of their contracted land as the government vows to intensify reforms to back their rights.

The government aims to complete rural land use-rights registration in five years and step up property rights protection for farmers' land use-rights, according to China's first policy document for 2013 released on Thursday.

It will also speed up work on reforms in the rural land expropriation system, implementing stricter acquisition procedures, rationalizing compensation and increasing farmers' shares in the output of expropriated land, the document said.

"Illegal changes in the use of farmland are not rare in rural areas. The rights registration and certification will help better protect farmers' property rights," said Qin Qingwu, a Chinese Association of Agricultural Economics member.

Chinese farmers own farmland through their collective, often a village committee, which distributes land-use rights to farmer families through long-term deals under a household contract responsibility system introduced in the late 1970s.

The system was at first designed to ensure distribution fairness, but a lack of legal proof on rural land ownership has led to unlawful land grabs as the country rapidly urbanizes and industrializes.

"With the registration, farmers will have a true feeling that they have rights over the land, and that they are capable of protecting it. Land expropriation will be negotiated and will not be allowed if they say no," Qin said.

Meanwhile, the legal backing will facilitate land transfers from farmers who are attracted by better-paid urban jobs to those who see promises in scale farm production. This will free up more rural labor without hurting farming efficiency.

Li Guoxiang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said because each farmer household is entitled to one or several small land plots, the fragmented production has caused bottlenecks to rural productivity.

Li said that he expected the completion of land rights registration to lay foundations for farmers' land transfers and help foster new types of farming production.

Official data showed that the country's migrant worker population amounted to 253 million by the end of 2011, among whom 159 million were working away from homes, leaving their farmland uncared for.

China has been struggling to boost its grain output to meet growing demand. Although it saw a higher yield for the ninth consecutive year in 2012, rises in grain imports last year underlined difficulties in maintaining the record.

"If rural land can flow to those capable producers, land use efficiency and yields will be higher. This is beneficial to both farmers who lease out land use-rights and those engaged in intensive production," Qin said.

According to the document, the government will work to boost land transfers to large landholders and farmers' cooperatives in a bid to develop various forms of scale production.

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