More than six decades after the end of feudalism in China, land-rights still remains the number one problem facing Chinese farmers, despite the law implemented in 1990 articulating that “agricultural land must be formally contracted to farmers who will have limited but sufficient freedom on the using of the land, for a term of 30 years”.
Farmers’ rights to land are often trespassed by local authorities and real estate developers who often work in collusion to expropriate or purchase arable lands.
In either case, farmers are given pathetically small amount of compensation. In 2010, farmers in Henan Province blocked a highway to protest against bulldozing by a real estate developer, after the real estate company used seven trucks to pull down thousands of trees, destroyed 100 Mu (a Chinese measurement of land, 100 Mu = 6.7 hectares) of farmland and injured five farmers [i].
Another problem facing Chinese farmers are the profitability of farming. Food prices in China have soared over the past years, but the net profit of 1 Mu (670 sq. meters) of crops stays at RMB1,000 ($166), whereas each farmer on average are contracted to 1.59 Mu (1000 sq. meters) of land; just half the amount of land owned by each farmer in India, one sixth of the US average and one tenth of Canada’s.
Scarce land and low profitability squeezed the annual income of farming to as low as $240. Even though, farmers in China are under constant exploitation from local authorities. On 3rd of July this year, a report said farmers in Gu County, Henan Province have been charged for using the rainwater to irrigate their lands since 2008. In 2010, an investigative news program broadcast daily by the central government news agency reported about “silkworm egg fees” charged on farmers by local authorities in Ankang City, Shaanxi Province.
Farmers’ economic conditions are often deteriorated by fluctuations in the market or conditions due to the lack of effective market demand and weather forecasting tools. “Chinese farmers tend to grow vegetables that were previously in short supply, which then leads to a sudden glut of certain vegetables,”, says Dai, an industry insider, on China Daily.
During this week, 86 hectares (86000 sq. meter) of tomato harvests were left to rot on a collective farm in Xi’an, Shanxi province, despite the farmers’ attempt to sell them at RMB 0.4 Yuan (6 cents) per kilogram .
But Chinese farmers’ grievances do not end there. Being distinguished by the household registration system, they are discriminated against in almost every aspect of their life such as health care, pension, education and housing, amongst other things. Certain parts of rural China are close to dangerous industrial waste damping sites, which pose huge health risks.
Without affordable health care, many of those who fall sick have to live with the diseases and disabilities, quietly waiting for death to knock on their doors, a scene very much different from what Mao once promised when he was starting the revolution from the rural China.
Finding it difficult to make ends meet by farming, millions of farmers rush into the cities, trying to find jobs in factory lines, construction fields or service sectors. It is predicted that by 2020, the number of rural residents in China will tumble down to 280 million from 300 million in this year,[ii] but another report in 2011 predicts the decrease would be as big as 100 million[iii]. Those remained in rural China will be older and less mobile, and their life will be even harder.
[i] BBC, 2010. Chinese farmers block highway to protest against property developers. BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific , 15 Jan.
[ii] Cheng, Y., Beijing, J.Z.i. & Liu, C., 2012. Arable land idle in China as farmers work in cities. McClatchy – Tribune Business News, 27 Mar.
[iii] BBC , 2011,Over 100 million farmers to migrate to Chinese cities over next decade – report. BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific [London] , 10 Oct.