China is exploring new ways to boost farmers' income, amid growing concerns over farmers' rights and welfare.

In Hainan, the government is pumping money into a pilot project that allows villagers to rent out their land to companies to develop tourism.

Previously a village, a rose garden in Hainan Sanya now specialises in growing roses and manufacturing products such as rose tea, oils and ornaments.

Seven hundred households were relocated for the project in which the local government invested some US$6.5 million.

Yang Ying, president of Sanya Rose Valley, said: "Basically, the farmers supply us their land. Our company, the farmers' cooperative and individual farmers work together to grow roses.

"The company helps them to sell the products. This will also ensure the appreciation of land value here."

The farmers are paid rental for the land, with the money coming from both the government and the company.

Some of the farmers are also employed to work on the farm, with an average monthly salary of US$280.

Baoting Village is another example of rural land reform.

The previously poverty-stricken village relied heavily on traditional agriculture.

In a pilot project, Chinese developer "Beijing Chunguang" rents land from villagers to develop tourism and other industries.

The developer pays rental to villagers over 60 years, in three payments.

The villagers have to give up their homes for redevelopment, but they are given replacements of at least equivalent size within the village.

Some villagers said they are happy about the new opportunities.

Gao Yan, a villager from Baoting Village, said: "We would not be able to earn enough money to build such a house by farming. Now if you work in the company, even if you are paid 1,000 yuan a month, you will get a few thousand yuan in two to three months.

"We can only farm in two seasons, you can't fetch that amount of money by selling paddy rice."

But there are also those who fear losing their land.

Gao Yan said: "Some are still against this, they are afraid of losing the land once developers come in."

If successful, it is hoped that such schemes can be replicated in other villages. But it is not easy.

Many grey areas exist in such rural land use projects. While some are driven by the government, there are also developers who take advantage of legal loopholes, developing rural land illegitimately.

Experts also warn farmers to check contracts carefully in such deals to ensure their rights to the land. This is not easy, given the average low level of education in the rural villages.


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