Landesa continues to provide high level briefings to our colleagues engaged in policy issues from China. Landesa founder Roy Prosterman and Landesa attorney Zhu Keliang presented at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. and at the Asia Society in New York on the status of land rights in China. Both presentations can be seen in full here:
Cato Institute: The Future of Chinese Land Rights
Asia Society: Who Owns My Land?
The audience was made up of government officials, development practitioners, legal professionals, journalists, and leading academics – all experts on China affairs including two senior officials of the World Bank in charge of agriculture and rural development and land tenure issues. Prosterman and Zhu discussed follow-up actions and potential collaborations with partners.
The Cato discussion was moderated by Ian Vasquez, director of the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at Cato Institute. The briefing at the Asia Society was moderated by New York University’s Frank K. Upham.
As its urban and industrial sectors continue to grow, China is now suffering one of the worst rural-urban income gaps in the world. At least 120 million people still live under the international poverty line, with the vast majority residing in the countryside. Moreover, China is facing increasing challenges in feeding its 1.3 billion people.
Many Chinese farmers lack secure property rights to the land they till, a fundamental cause of the deep income division between urban and rural populations. Recent legal and policy reforms have afforded stronger protections of farmers’ land rights than before, but they are often ignored at the local level. As China is moving toward a market economy, the central government is facing important choices and decisions that would affect the livelihood of more than 700 million rural citizens.
The presentation is based on an unprecedented and unique field study produced collaboratively by Landesa (formerly known as the Rural Development Institute), Renmin University, and Michigan State University. The independent assessment of the status of farmers’ land rights consists of a series of five large-scale surveys covering 17 provinces in China, first carried out in 1999, and most recently in mid-2010.
The most recent survey highlights an emerging land transaction market, as well as a growing number of long-term investments in land made by farmers when rights are relatively secure. However, several threats to farmers’ land rights remain, as a large number of farmers lose land due to compulsory government acquisitions at a grossly inadequate price, or coercive land leasing to well-connected individuals or companies.
Securing land rights for farmers are essential for fighting hunger, improving agricultural productivity and raising rural income levels. China is also undergoing a rapid urbanization process that creates new challenges. Can China feed itself while more and more farmers migrate to cities and agricultural land is increasingly converted to urban uses? Can the countryside be revitalized with hundreds of millions of small farmers enjoying secure land rights? Can these farming families become middle-class consumers and market participants?