Rural to urban land conversion in China — How large is the over-conversion and what are its welfare implications?
The current system of converting farmland to urban land use in China can be characterized as a hybrid system that combines government controls with market-based transfers. In this paper we argue that this hybrid governance structure causes an over-conversion of farmland from the rural to the urban sector, as compared to a competitive market situation, and a welfare reallocation that discriminates against farmland owners. We develop a partial equilibrium model that can be used to examine the impact of the current hybrid governance structure on the over-conversion of farmland and to analyze the welfare changes for different groups of actors and the resulting net social welfare loss. Using a dataset with detailed information on farmland acquisitions and urban land transactions in Yingtan City in Jiangxi Province, we illustrate how this framework can be applied. Our results indicate an over-conversion of 33.5% of the total converted farmland in this city between 1999 and 2003. The welfare of farmland owners affected by the conversion decreased by 1.38billion RMB, while the net social welfare loss equaled more than 270million RMB during the same period. The local government obtained 380million RMB of revenues by re-selling farmland as urban land through competitive conveyance mechanisms between 2002 and 2005, while the manufacturing sector gained an estimated 280million RMB from buying land use rights at relatively low prices. We conclude that the current policy of increasing urban land conveyance through competitive mechanisms does not address two major underlying causes of over-conversion, and that protection of farmland would be better served by replacing the current hybrid rural to urban land market structure by a competitive land market.
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