Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development

Crossing the River while Feeling the Rocks

Land-tenure reform in China

John W. Bruce and Zongmin Li

Case studies:

Reforming economy-wide policies

Key period: 1978–1984

Geographic region: China

The intervention: Beginning in the late 1970s, China undertook a series of policy reforms that transformed the country’s agricultural sector and reduced hunger on a scale unparalleled in history. The reforms effectively reintroduced household-based farming after more than 30 years of collective agriculture, returning more than 95 percent of China’s farmland to some 160 million farm households and giving farmers the incentive to sell their surplus farm production to market. The reforms contributed to increasing rural incomes by 137 percent, reducing rural poverty by 22 percent, and increasing grain production by 34 percent. Gains in on-farm efficiency also led to a substantial increase in the rural labor force available for non-agricultural employment—a shift that fueled China’s rapid industrialization in recent decades.

Book Chapter:
Crossing the River While Feeling the Rocks: Land-tenure reform in China
John W. Bruce and Zongmin Li
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Discussion Paper:
"Crossing the river while feeling the rocks": Incremental land reform and its impact on rural welfare in China
Bruce, John W.; Li, Zongmin. 2009. IFPRI Discussion Paper 926.
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