Unleashing the Production and Consumption Power of China's 750 Million Rural Poor

Roy Prosterman, Founder and Chair Emeritus of the Rural Development Institute (RDI), spoke at NBR’s Seattle headquarters on February 10, 2010. Prosterman discussed RDI’s recent nationwide survey on farmers’ land rights and the implications for China’s future.

The roundtable discussion was co-organized by NBR’s Kenneth B. and Anne H.H. Pyle Center for Northeast Asian Studies and Next Generation Leadership in Asian Affairs Fellowship Program as part of the Leadership Forum, a professional development program for NBR staff, fellows, and interns designed to cultivate leadership through a curriculum of seminars and discussion forums. The views expressed in Leadership Forum activities are those of the presenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of NBR or institutions that support NBR.


Background on the Topic

Land is the single greatest asset for the world’s rural poor. In China, however, farmers’ land rights are far from secure. Over forty million rural residents in China have lost their farmland due to urban or industrial developments over the last decade, while receiving little compensation.

The implications of insecure land rights are two-fold: Chinese farmers have no incentive to make long-term investments in their land to enhance productivity, and China now suffers one of the worst rural-urban income gaps in the world. Moreover, land grievances are the primary source of social unrest.

Providing secure land rights to China’s rural population would provide a foundation for broad-based development and counter the global economic crisis by stimulating domestic consumption and production. When the 750 million rural people are given secure land rights, they will invest, expand and diversify production, increase their farm income, and become consumers of a wide range of goods and services.

The NBR Special Report “Secure Land Rights as a Foundation for Broad-Based Rural Development in China” summarizes the findings of RDI’s 2008 nationwide survey on farmers’ land rights in China and describes the extensive implications of secure, long-term land rights.