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Chinese farmers look to more land reform

Xinhua, February 26, 2014 Adjust font size:

While tens of thousands of rural Chinese have flocked to big cities for higher salaries, Lei Yingguo's decision to pursue green agriculture in the country has paid off, if only financially.

Lei was laughed at by his peers when he began large-scale rice cultivation at Xiushi Town in east China's Jiangxi Province in 2005, a time when most rural Chinese were deserting their contracted land for cities.

Lei's eco-farm, with an annual net income of about 500,000 yuan (81,600 U.S. dollars), was the result of China's reformed land policy in 2004, which encouraged farmers to develop large-scale farming.

Lei is one of the beneficiaries of the 2004 reforms, but rising land rent and a shortage of advanced planting techniques have hampered his dream of expanding the farm's business from planting to breeding and grain processing.

He has new expectations for 2014, set to be a landmark year for the implementation of a reform master plan covering a spate of policies ranging from land use to anti-corruption.

"I expect favorable measures in fund-raising and government support in planting techniques during the upcoming two sessions," Lei said, referring to China's annual meetings of the national legislature and political advisors. The meeting of political advisors is set to open on March 3, and the meeting of the national legislature will open on March 5.

According to Chinese law, urban land is owned by the state and rural land is under collective ownership. Farmers can use the land but have no right to sell or develop it for real-estate use.

But they are entitled to lease their land to other farmers or to rural cooperatives and share the profits of such cooperatives.

Since the 1990s, the property market has flourished in cities and has been a major engine of growth, while ownership rules for rural land have not changed in decades, which has constricted rural development.

In order to unleash the vitality of the rural sector, Chinese leaders decided to tackle the rural land issue by putting forward a number of reforms at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee held in November.

A reform master plan approved at the session promises to give the country's 650 million rural residents more property rights, but specific measures have yet to be announced. Farmers expect such measures to be discussed during the two sessions in March.

China's per capita arable land is only about 1.35 mu, lower than half of the world average. High-yield farmland only accounts for 30 percent of the total arable land and the country has few backup resources available, according to a State Council report.

To ensure grain security, the country has drawn a "red line" of 1.8 billion mu as the official minimum area of arable land needed to feed the world's largest population.

The central leadership has reiterated its resolve to carry out the reform master plan in the lead-up to the two sessions.

When addressing a workshop attended by principal officials at the provincial and ministerial levels last week, President Xi Jinping said that "drafting a good document is only the first step for a long march, and implementation is still the key."

Wang Zhongwu, a sociology professor at Shandong University, said that regional development disparities and "unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable development" will still be hot topics during the two sessions.

Wang said that such problems cannot be resolved in a short time, adding that these troubles will test authorities' governance capabilities in the following years. Endi

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