Findings from Landesa’s Survey of Rural China Published

FEBRUARY 6, 2012 — The results from Landesa’s latest 17-province survey of China’s farmers, published in this week’s issue of the influential Chinese magazine Caixin (New Century Weekly), indicate that urgent reforms are needed for the country to continue economic growth, improve the welfare of its 700 million rural and mostly poor farmers, and bolster social stability. The survey released today, offers an up-to-date snapshot of farmers’ land rights across China and indicates that despite recent efforts by China’s central government to protect farmers’ land rights, a substantial number of surveyed farmers report further deterioration in their control over their land.

The survey shines a spotlight on China’s farmers, buffeted by powerful forces outside of their control. Across the country, farmers’ land is being taken, without compensation or consultation. And when there is compensation, farmers are often given only a fraction of their land’s true worth. New forced urbanization schemes, promoted by local authorities as a way to regain farmland, are instead further eroding the country’s agricultural base and leaving some “farmers” with no land of their own, and no other safety net.

“This survey comes at a time when farmers in Wukan village in southern China have made clear the dire consequences of insecure land rights,” said Roy Prosterman, founder and chairman emeritus of Landesa, and one of the survey’s authors. “The protest by Wukan villagers shows the serious impact of the discontent caused by land takings.”

Conflict over land accounted for 65 percent of the 187,000 mass conflicts in China in 2010, according to Chinese researchers. Approximately 4 million rural people’s land is taken by government every year.

“Nevertheless, some farmers with relatively secure land rights have begun to make mid- to long-term investments in their land,” said Keliang Zhu, staff attorney and one of the survey’s authors. “That boosts harvests and farmers’ incomes.”

Landesa’s China team, in its continuing role as advisor to China’s central government, has presented the findings of this study to government officials along with recommendations on legal and policy reforms so as to ensure that more farmers in China have the confidence to invest in their land and improve their bottom line.

This is a matter of urgency given its impact on China’s and the world’s food security and stability. The social and economic cost of not taking urgent action is quickly rising.

The survey is the sixth in a series by Landesa, in cooperation with China Renmin University and Michigan State University. Conducted in mid- 2011, the survey covered 1,791 households in 17 provinces that together contain three-quarters of China’s rural population.

For a more in-depth description of our findings, click here.

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