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Secure right of usage more important than ownership to China's forest farmers

What do poor forest farmers want from China's ongoing forest land reform?

Well, it is not private ownership of the land that makes them invest. What Chinese farmers value most and what attracts them to investments that can raise their standard of living and contribute to sustainable forestry is secure rights of usage, as shown by Ping Qin's doctoral thesis in economics at the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

In China, forestry is undergoing reform aimed at giving the right to manage forests to individual households instead of collectively to villages. Many studies have shown that the efficiency of forestry improves when the forest is managed by individual families instead of by collectives.

Privatisation, i.e., if ownership should also be transferred from the village to the individual family, is a question that is under constant discussion among researchers and politicians in China.

Western economists usually claim that private land ownership leads to more efficient utilisation of natural resources. Privatisation of land is therefore also believed to solve environmental problems. Chinese supporters of privatisation agree with this.

Their opponents claim quite the opposite that the gains from privatising land would be small. Privatisation would not benefit Chinese forest farmers and their investments, as they enjoy greater security under collective ownership and individual right of usage.

"What farmers themselves want and consider they need is often ignored by researchers and decision-makers, even though this is of great importance to the success of a reform," says Ping Qin.

Ping Qin therefore let farmers from 11 villages in one of China's poorest provinces, Guizhou, take part in an experiment to find out what they considered most important in a forestry contract.

The farmers value well-established rights of usage most. They want to avoid the risk of their land contract being terminated, they want priority rights when renewing their contract, and they do not want to wait more than a year to be allocated a harvest quota. These factors increase their willingness to invest in their forestry. Privatisation, i.e., that they would own the forest individually, is not seen as important.

"So far, the farmers in our study do not see any benefits from privatisation. Decentralisation of the power over the forest is important, however, to strengthen their rights of usage," says. Ping Qin.

Ping Qin has also studied China's regulation of forest harvesting, which aims to preserve forest. The effect of the harvest quotas is uncertain, as Ping Qin's research shows. The current regulation policy reduces the farmers' willingness to invest, which in turn reduces the growth of timber. The future end result may therefore be a decrease instead of an increase in the total forest area.

In another study in the thesis, Ping Qin looks at the relationship of power between the husband and wife in rural households with regard to joint decisions involving risk. The husband has greater influence over joint decisions, but the wife's influence increases when she has a higher income and more years of education than her husband, and she is a member of the Communist Party. Better opportunities for women to educate themselves and contribute to the household income would therefore increase gender equality in China.

The thesis has been carried out with support from Sida's capacity-building programme in environmental economics.
Time and place of the public defence of the doctoral thesis: Fri, 13 Feb at 10 am, room D 33, GU, School of Business, Economics and Law, Vasag 1, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Title of thesis: "Risk, relative Standing and Property Rights: Rural Household Decision-Making in China". Link to page with abstracts and all the articles in the thesis.

Author of thesis: Ping Qin

For more information, contact: Ping Qin +46 (0)31 786 46 67
Supervisor: Fredrik Carlsson
+46 (0)31 786 41 74, 0709 27 70 97 and Håkan Eggert
+46 (0)31 786 41 75, 0705 24 36 10
Press information:
Karin Backteman
+46 (0)31 786 25 95

Helena Aaberg | idw
Further information:

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