When it comes to making public statements, the Chinese Communist Party often opts for trends rather than specifics. It was therefore not an enormous surprise when the official communique on the Central Committee’s four-day meeting neglected to mention a potential landmark reform that would allow farmers to trade their land titles.
But all the evidence – from state media organs and President Hu Jintao himself – points to a policy change in the not-too-distant future.
Easing restrictions on the transfer of land-use contracts makes sense. It codifies what was already an established process through unofficial channels, thereby hopefully making the system less open to abuse. It is also in keeping with government policy to encourage urbanization and, as of last Sunday, double rural incomes and eliminate absolute rural poverty by 2020.
Obviously, China’s major cities must find a way of dealing with those who sell up and go urban – without even a scrap of land to their names. Steps must be taken to ease registration processes so that these people can become eligible for benefits.
One beneficiary of this policy may actually be the fields that migrant farmers leave behind. If transfers lead to the consolidation of land – taking individual lots of around 3,600 square meters and combining them under a single point of control – China’s agriculture industry has a better chance of becoming truly commercialized.
Chaoda, a Hong Kong-listed company that produces high-end vegetables, is perhaps a sign of what the future may hold. One of the few large-scale agriculture corporations in China, Chaoda won the backing of local governments to persuade farmers to sign over control of their land in exchange for a job tending the land. The company accounts for less than 1% of China’s vegetable industry, but it is building a healthy and lucrative export business.
For more on bringing business into Chinese agriculture, it is necessary to dip into the CER archive in search of the April 2007 issue. The numbers may be a little out of date, but the trends are still plain to see – which just goes to show you shouldn’t expect a fast turnaround regarding land title transfers.