There are two ratio distortions in China. One is the population to arable land ratio and the other is urban to rural population ratio. China is a country with a fifth of the world population but with a tenth of arable land. The gap between the wealth in the urban and rural also widened, which led to a heavy flow of migration from rural to urban. In order to combat such land distortion, improve its food security, and to narrow the gap of the living condition between rural and urban communities, the Chinese government implemented the Building New Rural Communities (BNRC) initiative. An implementation measure for the BNRC initiative is village, or land, consolidation. The ideal outcome of this would be to secure more crops to feed the population and better built villages for residents. However, the residents’ satisfaction with the policy implementation seems mixed. The strategy’s results are rooted in a system without sufficient accountability. The policy largely relies on the administration of the local governments which sometimes diverge from the will of the people. Therefore, a more democratic process that engages the residents and implementing a bottom-up approach would help to address the gap.
What is village consolidation and how does it work?
Primarily, by consolidating the villages, the provinces or cities secure the extra land and convert it to farm land and build new residential infrastructures. Therefore, the main process of the village consolidation is to move the farmers in located rural areas from their farmhouses to high-rise buildings and cultivate the land beneath the original farm houses to arable land. With more acres of farmland converted into arable land, the aim is to produce more crops to maintain better food security. Secondarily, the migration flow from the rural to urban in the last couple of decades resulted in cropland and farmhouse abandonment. Thus, relocating the villagers into a town of newly-built residential buildings will give the local governments time to demolish any vacant farmhouses and utilize abandoned cropland.
On the Ground Perspectives
While the village consolidation has great intentions, it is imperative to explore the perspective of the villagers who are directly affected by the policy. Their perspectives and experiences vary.
Some residents find the process rather abrupt and forced. In Shandong province, the residents attested that their homes were forcefully demolished by the local officials. According to their testimony, calling the police or any form of resistance was futile and some were detained. Such testimonies show the policy was implemented in a forceful manner without enough clarity of the procedure or time for the residents to prepare for the change. Furthermore, farmers argue the newly built high-rise apartments are too far from their fields, too expensive or ill-suited for their needs as farmers, showing the plan did not consider the daily lives and the convenience of the farmers.
On the other hand, some studies show there are residents who are satisfied with the policy and newly built towns. Some of the outcomes of the policy in Jilin Province were public services provided and newly built infrastructure such as roads, schools, hospitals, electricity, water, and sanitation. Residents in Jilin Province, unlike the residents in Shandong Province, found the infrastructures to be beneficial. Their positive experience illustrates that the local government implemented the policy considering their farming lifestyle while still providing the new infrastructure. Furthermore, they found 124 hectares of net new farmland as a big benefit from the village consolidation because the farmers were compensated with either the extra land gained or financial support.
Why the mixed outcomes?
Such starkly different outcomes is possibly due to the fact that local governments mostly manage policy implementation without sufficient accountability mechanisms. As the land consolidation process has been rapid in China, it has exceeded the capacity of the central government to control the conversion. Unfortunately, local officials are sometimes motivated to order the demolition of the old villages and building new ones mainly to promote their careers and impress their superiors. There is also financial incentive for the local governments since they can sell the arable land from the consolidation. As a result, the land consolidation is very likely to be carried out with less than noble intentions which is completely different from the original purpose of the policy. This can lead to demolishing the villages without adequate consideration or investigation of how it will affect the residents’ daily lives.
Then, what can be done to address the gap in the policy? Instead of relying solely on the current top-to-bottom approach, more bottom-up participation from the villagers in the decision making process will help address the gap. The engagement will ensure the new village is built to provide the urbanized infrastructures without compromising the farming lifestyle. Additionally, while the central government might not have to necessarily intervene in the implementation process, It should still have a further detailed oversight and evaluation mechanism to check on the local governments to ensure enough participation of and consent from the residents.
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