Zhongyuan Liu, a Ph.D. candidate in agricultural economics, knows that analyzing huge data sets are not enough to understand the impact of rural land reforms in China.
You have to talk to the farmers.
With that in mind, Liu used funding provided by the Office of Global Programs Graduate International Travel Award to interview farmers, village leaders and officers in a land reform office in the Wujin district, Jiangsu Province of China.
For generations farms have been the lifeline of rural Chinese, providing a place to grow the rice and vegetables essential to feeding their families, even though the average size is much smaller than what’s found in the U.S., Liu said. In 2016, for example, the average farm was slightly less than an acre.
Agricultural production, however, doesn’t provide enough employment. As a result, beginning in the late 1980s, migration to urban areas became more common. By 2017, more than 172 million people had moved to the cities and factory jobs, a figure that accounts for between 16 and 22 percent of China’s growth in its gross domestic product, according to Liu.
“Although the labor market is well developed and restrictions on migration have been removed, the number of people moving for jobs in urban areas hasn’t increased as much as is needed,” Liu said. “Rural land reform, however, could further release the potential of the rural labor stock.”
In China, like many other developing countries, property rights require demonstrating that the land is being farmed by those who live there. With a focus on increasing the efficiency of land use, land certification and titling programs that remove constraints on land and labor use have been widely implemented worldwide in recent years, Liu said.
To remove the obstacles caused by insecure property rights, the Chinese Central Government implemented a land-titling program in 2008 with a series of pilot projects in several provinces. The program is scheduled to finish by the end of this year, and each farm household is entitled to a land certification.
“Land certification is not a new thing in China,” Liu said. “Many rural households had the land certification after the new contract period around 1997, but the certifications did not have precise information of geographic position and the information archives management was in disorder. The new program evolved to include GPS surveys that better document the property lines that have been observed by the farmers.”
For the case study portion of his research, Liu interviewed officers in a land reform office in the Wujin district of Jiangsu Province, one of the most developed areas in China. He also interviewed a village leader, farmers who work in nearby factories in addition to farming and a representative of a large-scale family farm.
The pilot phase of the land-titling program in Wujin district was first carried out in 2014. In 2015, the project was extended to the whole district, and now about 95 percent of farmers in this district have signed the contracts and are receiving their land certificates, Liu learned.
“Overall, I learned a lot during the summer trip,” Liu said. “On the one hand, I learned a lot of information which I did not find from the literature review and I am more comfortable about my research now. On the other hand, I developed my skill and knowledge in organizing a case study.”