Monday, July 11, 2016

Land Transfers: Many Potential Risks

New regulations will protect farmers' rights in China's booming rural land transfer market--at least that's the hope of the Ministry of Agriculture that issued regulations.

The Ministry says rentals and other transfers of the rights to farm rural land now account for over one-third of collectively-owned land contracted to rural residents. (The proportion is up from about 7 percent in 2008 when officials first gave the go-ahead to set up pilot land exchanges and encourage the practice.) Over 10 percent of land has been transferred to enterprises or companies.

Agriculture Ministry officials are watching the land-transfer trend with trepidation.

According to Economy Daily, it has become popular for commercial investors to go to the countryside to "play agriculture" and for entire villages to rent out their land as a single big parcel. The Director or the Agriculture Ministry's rural operations office said that transferring large parcels of land can increase its value, reduce transactions costs, and give farmers greater value. However, the Director acknowledges that some village officials have made backroom deals or entered into deals for self-enrichment. These practices may violate farmers' rights, thus disrupting the "harmonious rural economy and society."

The Ministry is also worried about rented farmland being converted to non-grain crops or non-agricultural activities. Officials say there are "many potential risks."

The new regulations stipulate that villages where farmers have been issued land rights certificates should present a power of attorney when an entire village's land is rented out. Other villages must obtained signed agreements from at least two-thirds of collective members.

The regulations are not binding; they are intended to provide guidance as a reference for local officials regulating land transactions. China has a variety of land arrangements and institutions at the local level. Some provinces are in the process of delineating boundaries and issuing land rights certificates; other places have not given operation rights to farmers.

The Ministry says that 43 percent of counties have established land transfer exchange platforms. These include a variety of organizations. Many are institutions under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture's rural operations system. Others are operated as state-owned enterprises, and yet others are private companies operated as Internet-based exchanges. The exchanges are supposed to operate in an open, fair, and law-abiding manner, encourage parties to enter into formal contracts and settle disputes when they arise. The Ministry says that 67% of land transactions have formal contracts (much higher than other surveys say).

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