(Reuters) - China's cabinet vowed on Wednesday to tighten laws on the expropriation of farmland, warning that the problem risked fuelling rural unrest and undermining the country's food security.
"Rural land has been expropriated too much and too fast as industrialization and urbanization accelerate," state news agency Xinhua reported, summing up a meeting of the State Council.
"It not only affects stability in the countryside but also threatens grain security."
More reforms need to be put in place and a better legal system set up to resolve the problem, including stricter regulation on farmland expropriation, Xinhua said.
The meeting passed a draft law amendment altering rules on how to compensate farmers whose "collectively owned" land is expropriated, the news agency said, without providing details.
"The government must make efforts to beef up support for farmers and place rural development in a more important position," it added.
While the comments on land seizures do not break new policy ground, they do underscore government jitters about rural discontent as President Hu Jintao prepares to hand over the running of the country to his successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, named Communist Party head this month.
Farmers in China do not directly own most of their fields. Instead, most rural land is owned collectively by a village, and farmers get leases that last for decades.
In theory, the villagers can collectively decide whether to apply to sell off or develop land. In practice, however, state officials usually decide. And hoping to win investment, revenues and pay-offs, they often override the wishes of farmers.
The number of "mass incidents" of unrest recorded by the government grew from 8,700 in 1993 to about 90,000 in 2010, according to several government-backed studies. Some estimates are higher, and the government has not released official data for recent years.
Conflict over land requisitions accounted for more than 65 percent of rural "mass incidents", the China Economic Times reported this year, citing survey data.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)