05/09/2006, 00.00
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Land seizures increase at farmers' expense

A survey by Chinese and US academics shows that land seizures have increased 15-fold in ten years reducing investment in farming and generating resentment in the population which is increasingly demonstrating against the government.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Land seizures on the mainland have increased 15-fold over the past decade, with farmers who previously had user rights often not receiving adequate compensation, a Sino-US survey shows.

Such action fuels "significant public discontent in China's countryside", said a statement from Michigan State University, which carried out the survey with other institutions, including Renmin University in Beijing.

Land seizures are "typically schemes where local governments and business developers act in concert, so that they can take farmers' land away as cheaply as possible", the statement said.

"The number of annual takings was 15 times higher last year than in 1995—a trend that runs counter to recent legislation, including the Rural Land Contracting Law, designed to protect quasi-private property rights," it explained.

The survey, based on responses from 1,700 villages in 17 provinces last year, reflected gross inadequacy in the compensation farmers receive when their land was seized.

"Only one in five farmers subject to a [seizure] said they were consulted about the amount of compensation they might receive," the statement noted.

The growing uncertainty about how long farmers can remain on their land has had clear consequences, with many less willing to make long-term investments.

In 15.8 per cent of the cases, land was taken over to build factories, whilst in 13.1 per cent of the cases it was to establish development zones or industrial parks.

Farmers' land is often seized by corrupt local government officials and industrialists and then converted to either industrial or residential use at great profit even when zoning changes would not normally be made.

With frustration growing and protests on the rise, the authorities have often cracked down brutally on the protesters. Yet the number of "public order disturbances" rose by 6.6 per cent last year.

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