China's new law on rural land contracts, which for the first time grants farmers long-term, guaranteed rights to use their contracted land, took effect on Saturday.
"The law has great significance for the protection of farmers' fundamental interests, the promotion of agricultural development and the maintenance of social stability in rural areas," said Li Peng, China's top legislator.
The land is the basic productive material of farmers. Only a long-term and guaranteed right to use the land can give farmers the security they deserve so that they can increase the investment in their land, said Vice Premier Wen Jiabao.
According to the law, rural farmers' rights to use land under contract are guaranteed for at least 30 years, and women, whether married or unmarried, enjoy equal rights with respect to land distribution.
"Actually, this law gives farmers more freedom to use their land," said Dong Fureng, professor of the Chinese Academy of Social Science.
The new law stipulates that ownership of land usage rights cannot be revised before the expiration of the contract, and that, within the valid term of the contract, contractors may not reclaim their land. Farmers will also be able to legally transfer, re-contract, enter into share-holding ventures and exchange the rights of land use.
The new law, which grants farmers long-term guaranteed rights to use land, is beneficial to social stability in rural areas, where the per-capita area of land distribution is relatively small, added Dong.
"With the legal protection, I feel more secure about my future investment in my land," said Zheng Quanren, a farmer from Dalian city in northeast China's Liaoning province, who plans to spend 100,000 yuan (some US$12,050) to buy new vegetable seeds.
China began adopting the contract responsibility system based on household management in rural areas more than 20 years ago. Under the system, farming households concluded contracts with rural authorities to use and manage land for their own benefit.
In 1993, the government decided to extend the terms of these contracts by 30 years. However, some local authorities arbitrarily shortened the terms of the contracts and frequently revised the ownership of land use rights through administrative decrees.
Devoid of legal protection, farmers' land rights were sometimes violated. In some provinces, disputes involving land use rights gave rise to violence.
The problems relating to agriculture, rural areas and farmers have become an urgent challenge for China. The central government has made great efforts to boost the rural economy and increase the incomes of farmers.
In 2002, in view of the fundamental role of agriculture in China's economy, China enacted and amended several laws on agriculture and rural affairs.
(People’s Daily March 3, 2003)