Report on the International Conference 27-28 October 2014, Beijing, China

Land Governance in Emerging and Developing Countries

I am pleased to introduce the proceedings of the International Conference on Land Governance and Reform Experiences from Emerging and Developing Countries –Research Updates and Strategic Collaboration. The Conference was organised on the occasion of the launch of the China Issue of the Framing the Debates Series.
The specific objectives of the Conference were to: (a) formally launch the China issue of the Framing the Debates Series; (b) discuss the findings of this paper in light of other perspectives from within China; (c) share experiences and perspectives from other emerging economies and from developing countries; (d) share the key findings from previous issues of the Framing the Debates Series.The Conference was jointly organised by Renmin University of China (RUC), through the School of Public Administration and Policy (SPAP) and the Institute of Advanced Studies for Sustainability (IASS); the China Land Surveying and Planning Institute (CLSPI); the China Land Science Society (CLSS); and the Secretariat of the International Land Coalition. The Conference was attended by about 40 participants, about half from China and half composed of international participants. Participants from China included leading researchers, policy makers and experts from reputable Chinese universities (Peking University, Huazhong Agricultural University, Tsinghua University, China Agricultural University; Renmin University of China) and governmental and public think tank organisations (Ministry of Agriculture, CLSPI and CLSS).
International participants were composed of well-known scholars, practitioners and land activists from South Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, India, Nepal, Philippines, Russia, Hungary, Germany, Kenya, Ghana, Peru, Brazil as well as representatives from the World Bank, the Africa Land Policy Institute and ILC Secretariat.
The Conference was a large learning event for all participants, which was unanimously recognised. Of the many areas where relevant lessons could be distilled we can mention the following:

  • Land reform is seldom a once-off policy-decision. First, its gains are not irreversible. Second, adjustments will always be needed after the first measures start to be implemented, which is well illustrated in the case of China where a series of adjustments have been made over time in the Household Responsibility System, used to grant tenure security to farm households. These adjustments are dictated by lessons learned in the implementation of the first measures and by the changing political and social context.
  • Land reform laws and policies may be fine, but what really matters is their effective implementation, and in many if not most cases, it is observed that when implementation takes place, provisions of the law can easily get distorted as a result of rival and unequal forces at play.
  • As shown in the case of Brazil, family farming and agribusiness have each their strengths and weaknesses, and perform differently when assessed against social justice, economic growth, food security, and so forth. A question that was raised but could not be answered clearly is whether agribusiness and family farming have to be promoted side-by-side or whether the promotion of one inevitably bears on the other.
  • Many of the presentations delivered at the Conference show the importance of linking land reform with complementary measures. South Korea’s land reform would not have achieved its universally hailed outstanding results if it had not done simultaneously with massive investment in education of the people (urban and rural) and investment in the entire value chain. In other country contexts, productivity-enhancing measures had to complement the land reform decisions.
  • The Conference will certainly be remembered as a key milestone in ILC’s engagement in China. When, as Director of ILC, I travelled to China a year earlier I could not expect that the contacts made at that time with CLPSI, CLSS and Renmin University of China (RUC) could translate into such an important event as the Beijing Conference in such a short period of time, especially if one takes into account the complex context of land issues.
  • For Chinese partners the Conference was also a unique opportunity for debating among themselves the various aspects of China’s land reform experience, and also for being exposed to experiences from other regions of the world.
  • The Conference established good basis for ILC’s engagement in many very important countries where the Coalition is absent for the moment: Russia, Korea, Hungary, Vietnam and Brazil. 
  • The Conference marks ILC’s first important attempt to create strong linkages between emerging and still poor countries, in recognition of the huge untapped potential for mutual learning and collaboration between these two categories of countries. The learning potential that exists between emerging and developing countries can be illustrated by the very positive feedback we received from Dr Joan Kagwanja (Head of the Africa Land Policy Initiative/LPI) and Mr Lingzhi Zheng, Director-General of the China Land Surveying and Planning Institute (CLSPI). Clearly the time was too short. That said the concrete examples of land reform experiences in countries that were few decades ago at the same level of development as Africa answer many of the questions being asked to LPI by African policy makers and land concerned actors.

For the above reasons, I believe that it is important to have the key outcomes of this landmark conference documented and shared. I hope that the Conference marks the start of many other similar South-South experience-sharing events on challenging land issues.
I would like to thank the teams of CLSPI and CLSS (with special mention to Director-General Lingzhi Zheng and Ms Rosy Liao, Head of the Foreign Affairs Office), as well as of Renmin University of China (especially Prof Jimin Yan and Prof Tiejun Wen) for the warm welcome in China and for the excellent preparation and animation of the event. I also thank Dr Yongjun Zhao and Dr Jan Cherlet for having provided critical support at all stages of the organisation of the event and of the preparation of the proceedings.
Madiodio NiasseDirector, ILC SecretariatRome, Italy29 December 2014 

edited by Yongjun Zhao, Jan Cherlet, Madiodio Niasse