March 7, 2012
Protecting China's Land: Hope for People and Nature
Co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center, the Environmental Law Institute, and the China Environment Forum
Premier Wen Jiabao publicly announced this winter that China needs to make important choices and adopt a major new land law before the central leadership transition takes place in March 2013. The year 2012 thus will be a critical time period to accomplish the reforms that will affect the livelihood of 700 million rural Chinese and strengthen existing land protection regulations.
The premier’s prioritization of land reforms stems from the fact that as China’s urban and industrial sectors continue to grow, China is now suffering one of the worst rural-urban income gaps in the world. At least 120 million people still live under the international poverty line, with the vast majority residing in the countryside. Moreover, more than 4 million rural people every year lose their most important assets–land–due to government takings. As a result, land grievances accounted for two-thirds of the 187,000 reported mass protests and riots in China in 2010.
Insecure property rights also are a major hindrance for forest, soil and water protection efforts. Over the past 60 years China has witnessed significant transitions in both urban and rural land policies, as the government has experimented with different tenure schemes for cultivated lands, forests, and grasslands to increase productivity and improve local livelihoods. More than 27% of China’s species are threatened, and habitat degradation is escalating as pressures for land and natural resources soar. However, two recent studies highlight some positive trends.
At the March 7th CEF meeting, the speakers delved into the status of land reforms and land protection in China. Roy Prosterman and Zhu Keliang (Landesa) gave a presentation based on a unique field study produced collaboratively by Landesa (formerly known as the Rural Development Institute); China Renmin University; and Michigan State University. This independent study of farmers’ land rights consists of a series of six large-scale sample surveys covering more than 1,700 villages in 17 provinces in China, first carried out in 1999, and most recently in mid-2011. This most recent field survey highlights a growing number of long-term investments in land made by some farmers when rights are relatively secure. However, major threats to farmers’ land rights remain, as a large number of farmers lose land due to compulsory government acquisitions at grossly inadequate prices, involuntary urbanization programs with scant social benefits, or land grabs by well-connected companies or outsiders.
Megan Kram from The Nature Conservancy discussed highlights from the book she authored: Protecting China’s Biodiversity: A Guide to Land Use, Land Tenure, and Land Protection Tools. This book is the first of its kind, drawing on in-depth research and case studies to provide a comprehensive yet digestible overview of land use, land tenure and land protection opportunities in China. While the book explores the challenges that China’s species and habitats face, it also describes exciting new land protection efforts that are starting to take root, particularly involving government/private/NGO partnerships. Examples include Pudacuo National Park (China’s first) and the Monkey Island Conservation Development.
The publication is freely downloadable at The Nature Conservancy’s website:
To read a summary in Chinese of the 2011 Landesa survey findings please see the February 16th feature article in New Century Weekly of Caixin Media