The Chinese Communist Party approved a major economic reform plan yesterday to allow farmers to trade and mortgage their land rights and bolster the nation’s food security.
The move is part of a wider package of reforms aimed at reducing a gaping rural-urban income gap that has expanded during 30 years of capitalist market policies.
The package was approved at an annual meeting chaired by President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) of up to 500 members of the party’s central and disciplinary committees and other key officials, Xinhua news agency said.
It calls for a doubling of China’s per capita rural income of 4,140 yuan (US$591) by 2020, Xinhua said, without giving further details.
Under the new policies, farmers would be able to trade, rent and mortgage their land use rights for profit in a land transaction market, Dang Guoying (黨國英), a rural scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the China Daily.
“The move will speed up the country’s urbanization by bringing more farmers to the cities with the big farm contractors promoting modern farming in rural areas,” it quoted Dang as saying.
Policies approved by the party are traditionally placed before the National People’s Congress (NPC) for approval when it holds its annual session the following March, Beijing-based academic Russel Leigh Moses said.
“I don’t think we will see anything specific until the NPC next year when they start to set out the legal framework and when we will be able to see more of the internal debate over the program,” Moses said.
Building large-scale industrial farms is seen as key to China’s long-held policy of remaining self-sufficient in grain production and being able to feed its population of 1.3 billion people, state press say.
Most of China’s farm plots are small and held individually at a time when hundreds of millions of farmers are leaving the land to seek better lives in the nation’s quickly developing urban centers.
Under China’s Constitution all land is owned by the state, so the reforms under discussion are not expected to result in private ownership of land.
“Farmers are clearly concerned about their ability to do what they want to do with their land,” Moses said. “But the reform package also targets concerns over rising food prices in the cities and the urban food supply, including food safety issues.”
Although farmers have been leasing their land rights for years in many places, the party — by formally approving the process — is acknowledging that many rural dwellers have been left behind in China’s economic boom, he said.
The reform package could also include adjustments to China’s macroeconomic policy during the global financial crisis and amid a slowing in export growth, the official National Business Daily reported.
The rural focus of the ruling party meeting is also a nod to this year’s 30th anniversary of China’s opening and reform policies, which began in 1978 with policies returning collectivized farmlands back to individual farmers.
The 1978 reforms ended decades of disastrous experimentation with collectivization.
While the market reforms have led to spectacular economic growth, the dramatic income gap between China’s estimated 800 million farmers and the increasingly prosperous urban areas has become a huge headache for policymakers.
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