Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, February 15, 2013

Inching toward private property

In the US, Thomas Jefferson proposed a system of surveying land that is basically still used today. He was concerned with the organized sale of "wilderness" lands that the USA claimed to own after the American Revolution.

China's system for defining land "ownership" is much more traditional and local. Add to that the land redistributions of the 1950s, the commune movement of the 1960s, and the urban migrations of the 1980s and '90s, and the system poses immense problems for new reforms centered on recreating private ownership and encouraging more efficient agriculture.

Satellites Put Small Farms on China's Map
The bare light bulbs, unheated rooms and elderly residents of the whitewashed village of Yangwang in eastern China make it seem an unlikely place for an experiment in cutting-edge satellite technology.

But the tiny village in Anhui Province was home to a pilot project that for the first time mapped farmers’ land, putting Yangwang on the front line of China’s efforts to build a modern agricultural sector that can underpin the country’s food security — a policy priority for the Communist Party.

The mapping is a tedious but crucial task to make farmers feel more secure about their rights so that they become more willing to merge fields into larger-scale farms. It could also help protect them from land grabs by local officials, a leading cause of rural unrest…

Reforms in the 1980s assigned farmland to households, with formal ownership reserved for the village collective. But land certificates are imprecise at best, and more than half of rural households lack documentation — leaving possession dependent upon villagers’ knowledge and officialdom’s whims…

Fields near the Yangtze River
Most Chinese farmers till about eight mu, or a little more than an acre… per household. Each household’s land tends to be subdivided into five or more plots…

China legalized land transfers in 2008 to formally allow villagers to aggregate land. Most Chinese agriculture remains small-scale, however, which does not facilitate investments that would increase productivity enough to feed a growing urban population…

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