Chinese Peasant Organizer Gets Results.  Lu Banglie fights land seizures and rural taxes. 

"Although China's peasants have repeatedly resorted to violence in recent years, most confrontations have been spontaneous uprisings over local land seizures, unconnected to eruptions elsewhere. But Lu, under the guidance of Beijing-based democracy advocates, sought to apply the experiences of his own village to the struggles of others, taking his activism national.   His main weapon was Chinese law, the letter of which offers many guarantees that, in practice, are often set aside by party leaders. In a country where the Communist Party crushes any attempt at forming associations outside its control, Lu's goal of spreading the word on how to use law books to oppose local leaders amounted to a relatively novel political challenge. ...


The peasant agitation Lu helped promote has caused the party leadership in Beijing to emphasize that farmers and their fields must be protected from headlong economic development turning much of the countryside into an extended suburb.  With Premier Wen Jiabao as the most vocal proponent of the new protections, the central government has poured subsidies into farming villages and imposed restrictions on the land seizures that are at the heart of most violence.


Beijing two years ago abolished the ancient crop taxes that had been the bane of China's farmers since imperial times. It also began to control the multi-tiered system that forced farmers to pay annual fees to village, county, municipal and provincial authorities as well as the national tax. Partly as a result, violent protests in the countryside have diminished significantly. ...


[Lu's future effort] is likely to focus on the suburbs of large cities, ... where the price of land is so high that local officials often find it irresistible to confiscate fields and resell them to developers. Such sales -- in which the price paid by developers far exceeds the compensation given farmers -- have become a major source of funding for many localities, according to official accounts. According to Lu and other disgruntled farmers, they also have become a major source of graft for local party leaders, the stuff of struggles to come."

posted June 26, 2008 at 7:30 a.m.


Privately Funded Ag Research:  The New Chocolate.  Mars Candy Company announces a plan to invest $10 million to develop cacao plants that are drought and disease resistant.  The research group (including IBM and USDA) intends "to sequence and analyze the entire cocoa genome. The team will be identifying the characteristics that make a better cacao tree. Then it plans to breed the genetically superior specimens to battle the foes that have shrunk the number of beans to make chocolate over the years....  Once scientists identify the useful genes, they'll be able to accelerate the breeding process.'You don't have to wait an entire crop cycle to find out if you selected the right plant or not.' ...  Mars plans to make the research results free and accessible through the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture." 

posted June 26, 2008 at 7:20 a.m.