Inaugural Kravis Prize winner Roy Prosterman founded Landesa to apply his expertise in land reform, rural development and foreign aid to addressing the challenges of landlessness around the world. According to a recent article in Context China, Landesa has worked with the Chinese government since 1987, paying particular attention to state expropriation of farmland and compensation for farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture, among other organizations, has helped Landesa secure land ownership for nearly 86 million Chinese farming families.

Context China contributor Wen Liu recently interviewed Prosterman about the organization’s work in China, including a discussion about what led attracted him to the country:

Our work in China began in 1987, quite straightforwardly, because we saw initial publicity that China had broken up its collective farms and that agricultural production had substantially increased as a result. If this were true, we thought, it would be a striking instance of an erstwhile centrally planned economy of great size abandoning collective farming as a failure and replacing it as family farms, and we wanted to see it for ourselves. We did field work on this in 1987 (invited by the Foreign Affairs office of Sichuan province) and again, more extensively, in 1988 (invited by the Development Research Center of the State Council).

The article highlights China’s sixth land rights survey, published by Landesa in 2011 and identifying the widespread problem of Chinese farming families lacking proper documentation of their land rights. Prosterman elaborated on the finding:

Under the law, Chinese farm families are supposed to receive two documents confirming that they have 30 year rights to the small parcels of land that they farm: a contract issued and signed by the local, village authorities, and a certificate that is issued by county level or higher authorities. As of the latest, mid-2011 survey, we projected that only 37 percent of the approximately 200 million farm households appeared to have both of these documents, and 23 percent had still been issued neither of the two documents. Moreover, only one out of five of the issued contracts and two out of five of the issued certificates contained all of the important terms, such as an adequate map or description of the location of the household’s land parcels. Moreover, substantial majorities of the issued documents failed to record wives’ names.

Clearly, there is more work to be done on behalf of China’s farming families, but Kravis Prize winner Roy Prosterman and the Landesa team remain committed to meeting the challenge.

“Former Wall Street Lawyer Works to Defend Poorest Farmers in China” [Context China, October 25, 2012]