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Experts: Protecting farmers' interests
( 2003-09-25 01:01) (China Daily)

Farmers' interests should be better protected during the process of urbanization, experts urged in a forum on Urbanization and Land Policy held by Shanghai Academy of Social Science last week in Shanghai.

The interests of farmers should be better protected during the process of urbanization. [China Daily]

China's small cities and towns began flourishing the 1980s. And the country's urbanization strategy is focusing more and more on big cities and city belts nowadays.

As cities are expanding beyond their outskirts, large quantities of agricultural land have been requisitioned. Yet the interests of farmers, who lost their land, have not been fully protected in some requisition programmes, which has become a serious social problem.

Experts participating in the forum showed deep concerns over the issue and urged authorities to take further steps in reforming the requisition policies.

Lin Yifu, director of the China Institute of Economic Research under Peking University, pointed out that the next three decades would witness a sizable increase of industrialization and urbanization in China.

"A dozen cities with tens of millions of people and hundreds of middle-sized cities with a population of half a million will emerge in the country," Lin said. "Greater quantities of land will be requisitioned in the process, and more farmers will be losing the land they depend on for a living. All this reminds us of the urgency of settling the problem.''

In China, urban land is owned by the State and suburban land around cities and rural land are owned by collectives. Rural residents engaged in agriculture depend on the land contracted to them for a living.

These agricultural lands are revalued right after the requisition, and become centres for attention and contention. Yet the value of land has not been shown in the compensation given to the farmers today.

Xu Yuanming, director of the Institute of Rural Development at the Jiangsu Academy of Social Science, introduced that there were several types of infringement in the land requisition programmes in recent years: The requisition scale was enlarged at will; the compensation standards applied were very low; the land policy set by local authorities hurt the farmers' interests, such as excluding green belt along the highway and irrigation canals and ditches in the fields from the compensation range; and some rural collective land was even taken for free.

Among all these, requisition at low prices is the most common indiscretion, Xu said.

Sun Ziduo, director of the Institute of Economy with the Anhui Academy of Social Sciences, brought up an example in East China's Anhui Province.

A city in Anhui expanded soon after they built the ring road and the land price jumped to 4.5 million yuan (US$540,000) per hectare from the previous 750,000 yuan (US$90,000). The value of the requisitioned land increased by 14 billion yuan (US$1.68 billion) in total.

At the same time, farmers were not properly compensated. They only got 150,000 yuan (US$18,000) for resettlement and another 15,000 yuan (US$1,800) for the seeding of the fields with each hectare of land.

This falls far short of the needs of the farmers, who then had to find their own jobs other than farming for a living.

The city expansion did not lead to those farmers entering the city, but in fact caused living difficulties for these suburban farmers who lost their land, Sun said.

Pan Mingcai, director of the Cultivated Land Protection Department with the Ministry of Land Resources said that the current economic compensation paid to farmers is a one-time deal, but resettlement of these farmers is a more fundamental issue.

In the years of planned economy, besides receiving economic compensation, these farmers would be assigned jobs and receive the welfare payments subsidized by urban citizens. Their lives after losing the land could be well ensured, which was quite acceptable to the farmers. But in the times of a market economy, such traditional settlement is no longer available. Farmers deprived of land usually fall jobless, finding it hard to make a living.

On how to protect the farmers' interests, experts offered the following suggestions.

First, farmers should get proper compensation that comply with the rules of a market economy.

The current requisition payment standard is established according to the past agricultural usage of land, which does not show its potential profits and value. The double functions of land to farmers as production material and also assurance of social security have not been taken into consideration. And showing no regards to the supply and demand in the land market, the compensation is not in line with the rules of a market economy and international practices.

Second, these farmers should be appropriately resettled with long-term assurance such as employment, starting of their own businesses or other social security arrangements.

Zhang Da'niu and his wife Zhou Zhenmei are common farmers in Zongyang County, East China's Anhui Province. In 1995, the couple and two of their sons had a free physical "check-up" at the township hospital. Upon inhaling some "fog-like" chemical, Zhang became short of breath and lost consciousness. Eight years later, he is still left in the dark about what it all was for. [China Daily]

At present, there are several methods for resettlement.

After a certain amount of training, these farmers can be employed by the organizations and enterprises that requisitioned the land. In Shanghai and Chongqing, farmers are organized by local labour departments to receive occupational training and jobs.

Local governments can provide farmers with some land with favourable conditions for their own development and operation according to the plan. The long-term incomes and jobs brought by this land can be supplemental to the requisition compensation.

Besides, the social security system for these farmers should be established. It can be included to urban social security system or the protection of commercial insurance. In Shanghai, there is even a township social insurance programme for farmers.

Last but not least, co-ordinated reforms are the basis for the land requisition reform and related systems provide support for a new land requisition policy.

The collective land property system should be completed by clarifying the property's value. A sustainable development mode should be adopted in the use of land resources. Taxation systems should also be improved to stop excessive overcharging in land requisition practices.

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