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Fresh Look at Problem of Land Rights
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The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Chinese government yesterday signed-up to a new project that aims to find solutions to problems over land rights, governance and public services in rural China.

From China the Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR), the China Institute for Reform and Development (CIRD) and the China International Centre for Economic and Technical Exchanges under the Ministry of Commerce were involved.

Entitled "Revitalizing Rural China through Land Policy Reform and Innovation in Rural Governance and Public Service Delivery" the four-year project is designed to promote strategic policies and legislative reforms to revitalize rural areas with particular emphasis placed on issues related to land rights, access to public services and local governance.

By improving growth, efficiency and equity in rural areas the project aims to modernize development of the countryside and reduce rural-urban inequalities, said Khalid Malik, UN Resident Cocoordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in China.

"Securing rural land rights, stronger bargaining power for farmers and sufficient compensation for land use have been identified as keys to rural reform in China," Malik said.

With the country's rapid urbanization and industrialization the demand for land has led to rampant illegal expropriation at local level.

"As the pressure for urban expansion mounts around the country stories abound of farmers being forced off their land with little compensation and no means of recourse," Malik said. "Farmers who have lost their land come to cities and cause new problems."

Huang Zongli, director-general of the Department of International Cooperation, Science and Technology under the MLR, said he hoped a new land acquisition policy in the country could be explored through implementation of the project. "We want to build a just and fair land management system to achieve clarity in land transfers to ensure farmers' rights," Huang said.

The US$5 million project will include research on new procedures concerning land rights and policies, Malik said.

Based on regional disparity, economic and urbanization conditions pilot projects will be carried out in eight provinces.

CIRD President, Gao Shangquan, said it was imperative to have a clear understanding of farmers' rights to solve the problems. "Some local governments acquire farmland in the name of building public projects which end up as commercial ones," he said. "That brings harm to farmers in a disguised way."

Gao also suggested exploring new ways to compensate farmers who've lost their land. "We're thinking of a way to let farmers buy shares in their land which can benefit them in the long term," he said.

The MLR also issued a notice yesterday to press local branches to strengthen their supervision of local governments' work to re-cultivate the same amount of arable land approved for other uses.

(China Daily December 21, 2006)

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