Farmers' protests drop 20% last year

By Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-01-31 07:17

The number of rural protests involving mass participation declined "markedly" last year, and will continue to drop if government officials work in real earnest to redress farmers' complaints.

That was the message delivered yesterday by Chen Xiwen, the top advisor to the government on rural policy.

"Overall, the volume of rural mass incidents in 2006 clearly fell from the previous year," Chen, director of the Office of Central Rural Work Leading Group, told a press conference held by the State Council Information Office in Beijing.

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Chen revealed after the briefing that he estimated the decline in protests was close to 20 percent, and there had been 23,000 such incidents on the mainland last year, with less than half in the countryside.

Nearly half of the rural mass protests, including petitions and riots, were triggered by illegal land seizures or expropriation, and the rest were sparked by farmers' discontent over village finances and pollution, Chen said.

To fix the woes, the State Council has ordered local governments to raise compensation for farmers who lose their land for development projects, and provide vocational training and re-employment services in addition to bringing them under the social security umbrella, he said.

The Chinese Cabinet has also begun to hold provincial governments responsible for diverting farmland to other uses in excess of quotas, he added.

China has to do whatever it can to prevent farmland from shrinking below the 120-million-hectare warning line to ensure food security in the years ahead, he told China Daily. The acreage was 122.1 million hectares at the end of 2005.

There are channels for farmers to complain in China, but the key is to ensure that they are clear; and government officials handle issues concerning farmers' interests strictly in line with statutes and policies, he said.

If their interests were not prejudiced, farmers would have fewer grudges, he said.

"It's still the case that issues that arose several years ago have not been properly resolved or not resolved to farmers' satisfaction, and so they are still unhappy and continue to complain," he said.

Chen said government officials should not neglect farmers' petitions on the pretext that they are trivial instead, they should strive to resolve their problems promptly.

Relations between farmers and local officials have improved following the phasing out of the centuries-old agricultural tax and the building of a market system for grain distribution.

In the past, they were strained largely because rural officials were responsible for collecting the revenue and grain directly from farmers, Chen said.

(China Daily 01/31/2007 page1)

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