Chinese Ariculture Minister Han Changfu (L) gives a press conference for the second session of China's 12th National People's Congress (NPC) on rural reform, in Beijing, capital of China, March 6, 2014. (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu)
BEIJING, March 6 (Xinhua) -- China's agricultural minister Han Changfu stressed Thursday that rural land transfer should be carried out in a gradual and orderly manner and shall not be forced as local governments rush to achieve their reform goals.
"Rural land transfer should be bound by law, made voluntarily, and with compensation," Han told the press conference on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature.
Han's remark was in response to the phenomenon that some Chinese local governments set targets for implementing rural land transfer and forced farmers to transfer their land-use rights, amid the country's latest drive to deepen rural reform.
In China, urban land is owned by the state, and rural land is normally under collective ownership. Farmers mostly have rights to use, but cannot directly sell or mortgage land.
Lured by better employment and salaries, as many as 260 million farm workers have left the countryside for cities. A side effect of the exodus is a vast amount of land being left uncultivated.
Authorities have taken moves to make better use of such land. According to a key plenum of the Communist Party of China in November, farmers will be allowed to transfer and mortgage their land-use rights, or turn the rights into shares in large-scale farming entities.
"It must be made clear that the subject of rural land transfer is farmers, not cadres," Han said, stressing that the farmers' interests should be fully protected.
Han also stressed that the land should be kept to farming purposes after the transfer is done.
China has vowed to keep 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) of arable land, an amount considered as a "red line" minimum to ensure food security.