Farmland taken from villagers 'for games'

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A city in Central China has ordered the planting of saplings in place of wheat on hundreds of hectares of farmland in the run-up to a national sporting event, ignoring complaints from villagers and State policies on the protection of basic arable land.

Villagers in Xindian town of Nanyang city, Henan province, plant trees last Wednesday on land previously used to grow wheat. [Zhang Xingjun / Xinhua]

Villagers in Xindian town of Nanyang city, Henan province, plant trees last Wednesday on land previously used to grow wheat. [Zhang Xingjun / Xinhua]

In the past two months, roughly 300 hectares of wheat have been uprooted and bulldozed to give way to young trees in the rural areas around Nanyang city in Henan province, Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday.

The move is part of the local government's efforts to prepare for the National Games for Farmers, the report said. Nanyang will host the national sporting event in 2012.

A local village committee in the city's Hongniwan town has signed contracts with villagers to rent their farmland for a period of 30 years, citing a plan to build Nanyang into "a garden city" and the need to improve decorative vegetation on the outskirts of the city, according to a copy of the contract.

For Zhou Tinghua, a 70-year-old villager living in the Linzhuang village of the town, the rent contract signed by his family led to the bulldozing of about one hectare of wheat that would have been ready for harvest within a month.

The village committee forced his family to sign the contract, Zhou was quoted as saying.

"We have relied on it (the farmland) for a living for generations," said Zhou. "Even now we are not willing (to lease the land)."

More than 260 hectares of farmland had been rented and planted with poplar trees in Hongniwan town, Li Shulin, the town head, told Xinhua. The farmland is located along a major expressway near Nanyang.

Another 60 hectares in Linzhuang village will be covered with trees to form a clustered vegetation area, she added. Villagers had been growing wheat on most of the land.

Li admitted that the tree-planting plan had met strong resistance from the villagers.

But the work had to be completed because the government of Nanyang had given it as an assignment to the town, which was part of the preparations for the city's hosting of the National Games for Farmers in 2012, Li was quoted as saying.

The local land and resources department has launched an investigation into the case, the report said.

Farmland in China should be strictly protected from purposes other than agriculture, or from being planted with trees or saplings without government approval, said Wang Zekun, an official with the department in Nanyang.

In addition, farmers cannot be forced to transfer their rights of land use, according to Chinese law.

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