Comments on: China’s elusive land reform Beyond the World news headlines Wed, 16 Nov 2016 20:09:42 +0000 hourly 1 By: elena.kayes Sun, 05 Jan 2014 12:35:47 +0000 “Much of the rural poverty problem in China can be traced to the inadequacy of the land reform introduced after 1978 and the fact that, even today, rural land is still legally under “collective” ownership.”

This is a gross misrepresentation of what is actually happening on the ground. Superimposing a normative framework to China’s rural development, and promoting land reforms on a continuum towards privatization undermines the complexity of of local interests that can and have influenced the policy formation and implementation of China’s policies. Privatization of land (aka strengthened land rights) would not increase productivity, but would disproportionately benefit agribusiness and farm employers while undermining the economic and social position of China’s farmers and increasing environmental degradation.
Privatization would have the following consequences:
1. it would increase farmers vulnerability to market volatility, manipulation, natural disasters, and land grabs– while they are currently vulnerable to corrupt local officials, with private land rights they would be vulnerable not only to market volatility, but they would have to individually negotiate with even more powerful actors like transnational corporations who would have deeper access to market penetration.
2. it would pit farmers against one another in a rush to extract once-communal resources before someone else does (as was evident in the early years of decollectivization
3. within the context of retracting state welfare benefits and infrastructure support for rural villages it would pressure farmers to employ intensive land-use practices to increase short-term yields at the cost of long-term sustainability, or empower land development for private profit (particularly by elite interests), thereby amplifying food insecurity, land scarcity, and rural unrest.

On the other hand, the collective model:
1. provides a minimum security while buffering farmers from the volatility of the marketplace and perils of life as a migrant landless laborer
2. creates a community of stakeholders to collectively protect their land and resist unjust land seizures
3. promotes a shared responsibility among villages to implement practices that preserve the land’s long-term productivity and sustainability

In order for a policy to be successful, it needs to integrate an understanding of the incentives that drive local actors choices to create appropriate alternatives and opportunities, and the collective model enables rural farmers to voice their interest louder, together. Privatization of land would put China one step closer to resembling the western economic hegemony that is already undermining the economic and social position of the 99% in the U.S where 95% of income gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1%.