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BEIJING -- China's recent move to encourage farmers to transfer the using rights of their contracted land will enhance social equity and production efficiency, analysts say.
The country will safeguard farmers' rights to contract rural land while relaxing control over using rights, according to a statement after a rural work conference last week.
"While sticking to collective land ownership, granting the right of contracting to qualified farmers is a demonstration of social equity," Ye Xingqing, an expert with the Development Research Center of the State Council, said Tuesday.
In China, rural land is normally collectively owned. The government started to allow farmers to contract for and use rural land in the early 1980s, significantly enhancing agricultural productivity as farmers got their own contracted land.
However, as China becomes urbanized and industrialized, huge labor demand and opportunities in cities have drawn millions of farmers to leave their homes and form a new group of people called "migrant workers".
Official data showed the number of rural migrant workers stood at 262.61 million by the end of 2012, accounting for 19.39 percent of the country's total population.
The profound social change requires transfer of land-use rights to large-scale farming entities, but without policy support, farmers worry that they may not get their land back, said Sun Yinghui, head of the legal center under the Ministry of Land and Resources.
"Some land is not farmed, while some people don't have land to farm. The phenomenon seriously hinder the efficiency of resource allocation," Sun said.
A landmark meeting on deepening reforms last month decided to allow farmers to transfer or mortgage their contracted land, or turn the rights into shares in large-scale farming entities.
It also made it clear that the government encourages farmers to "franchise" their lands to large farming entities, including farms, farmers' cooperatives and agricultural enterprises.
No matter how the using right is transferred, the farmers will remains the legal "owner", or contractor of their lands, according to the rural work conference.
The separation of using rights from the rights of farmers as the legal contractors reflects the requirements of current rural development and is conducive to boosting agricultural productivity, Sun said.
Encouraging farmers to transfer their land-use rights will help nurture new farming entities and make sure that rural land is farmed, he added.
Ye agreed, saying that giving rights to entities with capabilities will boost efficiency of agricultural production.
The country should safeguard the using right of farming entities by giving them more support and protection to make sure that they can benefit from farming, Ye added.
To push forward rural land reform, a prerequisite should be the registration and confirmation of farmers' rights to the lands they have contracted, according to Sun.
Last Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Han Changfu said the country will start land registration in more areas in 2014 and try to roll out the scheme nationwide in 2015 with an aim to finish the work in five years.
China started the land registration program in 2008. It had been expanded to 50 counties by 2012. More than 100 counties joined the program in 2013.