In recent days, authority in China had pledge a new policy related to land reform (here). It has been 30 years ago, the government allowed individual families to farm in the state land under 30 years government contract without allowing them to transfer or rent out the lease to other families. In fact the land was rent out to other families under informal arrangement and many farmers went to city to find better livelihood and incomes. The land was so small (around 0.67 hectares) which raised the sense of inefficiency when farmers work on the plot.
The new proposed policy will allow the farmers to trade, rent or mortgage their land for profit. Is socialist China becomes more capitalist with this new policy? In a country where a poverty becomes a problem, access to land needs to be structured first.
What happened in China would be in line with current trend worldwide that is the breakdown of communal land. The idea was replaced by individualization where private ownership is perceived as a way to a more prosperous society. Private ownership is more secure than of communal property.
Similarly happened in Indonesia where there are still many communities live in rural/remote areas. Most of them still hold beliefs on their own traditional values which are site-specific and unique. The values control their life, the relationship among communities, among human-God and among human-resources-God.
The access to land is one of the form of relationship where the land belongs to communal society, the private property is not really recognized. All the member of society can make use of resources together with some rules and institutional arrangement among them. This would prevent ‘Hardin’s Tragedy of Common’ happened.
This is my research in Tanimbar Island where communal property being broken down as local government persuade them to sell the land with some compensation. Not only that, the town nearby is growing so it attracts more villagers to find new livelihoods which give them more opportunity for improving their life. The farming way of life becomes obsolete as only older generation who are still involved in that activity. Only small number of young generation maintain their livelihood from agriculture.
So the issue of land accumulation for agrarian purpose (case in China) or non-agrarian purpose (in the case of Tanimbar Island, the agriculture land converted into government building) are really threaten people’s livelihood which then might drag people into poverty. The access to land in rural areas are still important though it is not profitable enough. The strategy to address this, farmers need to diversity their livelihood as to diversify risk from farming. Local banks need to disbuse credit for farmers since many of them lack of credit because lack of collateral. So the last is structuring land access by proper certification would open more opportunities for farmers.
note: this post is contributed to Blog Action Day 2008