Satellites put small farms on China’s map of progress

The bare light bulbs, unheated rooms and elderly residents of the whitewashed village of Yangwang in eastern China make it seem an unlikely place for an experiment in cutting-edge satellite technology.

But the tiny village in Anhui Province was home to a pilot project that for the first time mapped farmers’ land, putting Yangwang on the front line of China’s efforts to build a modern agricultural sector that can underpin the country’s food security — a policy priority for the Communist Party.

The mapping is a tedious but crucial task to make farmers feel more secure about their rights so that they become more willing to merge fields into larger-scale farms. It could also help protect them from land grabs by local officials, a leading cause of rural unrest…

China’s annual rural policy document, released last week, calls for farmland titles to be defined nationwide during the next five years. It is a technical challenge that could cost $16 billion…

The satellite mapping will replace current deeds that often rely on descriptions like “Yang’s field borders Wang’s to the east.” Such colloquial formulations make villagers reluctant to remove dirt mounds that separate the plots for fear that they will no longer be able to identify what is theirs.

The mapping information will be compiled in searchable, centralized registries, allowing farmers to confirm what they own and giving officials better land-use information…

The project carries a hidden price tag for Beijing, which subsidizes grain production, fertilizer use and irrigation at an average rate of 150 renminbi per mu. The subsidies are based on area estimates that date from a time when farmers regularly underreported the size of their plots to avoid grain taxes…

Matou Township alone gained 45 percent more registered area with the more accurate mapping, to the delight of township officials and residents hopeful that greater subsidies would follow…

The berms that villagers use to identify their plots could disappear when fields are merged, he said, leaving villagers in need of some other way to prove what is theirs.

Just as China moved the whole nation’s economic culture from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century in a span measured by decades, now they have to change everything from mindset and attitude – adding precise measurement – to enable moving rural incomes in the direction of urban economies. That has already started; but, skipping more centuries with the aid of satellite GPS systems will accelerate the process.

One thought on “Satellites put small farms on China’s map of progress

  1. moss says:

    Can you imagine starting from scratch with rods and chains the way we did in the States prior to homesteading – in a nation the size of China, arable land mass and population?

    They’re intending to do in five years – with appropriate hardware and software – what took place in North America over a couple centuries.

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