‘Golden offers’ look to draw people back to the countryside
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‘Golden offers’ look to draw people back to the countryside

Posted by | June 15, 2017 |

The capital of Hubei province has started a program to allow businesses to flourish in run-down and abandoned villages. Zhou Lihua and Liu Kun report from Wuhan, with Chen Mengwei in Beijing.

At a time when large cities are still sucking in rural residents from across the nation, a major city in Central China is working hard to reverse the trend by encouraging people to move to the countryside.

In April, Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, proposed a program – the “20 Golden Terms”, as it was dubbed by the media – that would allow urban residents to conduct business in the city’s rural areas.

The drive came in response to rapid urbanization which has seen villages in and around the city sucked dry of residents.

According to research conducted by the municipal government, more than 116,000 houses, nearly 16 percent, of the 1,902 villages around the city have been abandoned. By the end of last year, nearly 1 million of Wuhan’s rural residents had moved to the city’s central areas.

Tan Benzhong, director of the Wuhan Municipal Agriculture Committee, said the rising number of empty houses in villages has been caused, in part, by the rapid pace of urbanization.

Some villagers have obtained hukou, or household registration, in Wuhan, while many young people are leaving to look for work in big cities.

When government officials conducted a random survey in 38 villages, they discovered that more than 78 percent of those interviewed were willing to lease their empty homes to gain extra income. There was only one problem – who would rent the properties?

In response, the government came up with the “golden” package, which essentially cleared the way for people who want to make money in the countryside, and promised hard cash encouragements for qualified applicants.

The policy ensures that outsiders enjoy the same business terms as their rural counterparts, no matter which village they choose to invest in. Green lights and express passes will be provided for all application procedures.

The city government is committed to spending large sums to improve the infrastructure, including providing private and public toilets, to ensure that newcomers and tourists enjoy their time in the city’s villages. The final details of the funding arrangements have yet to be released.

Most attractively, entrepreneurs are eligible for cash stipends of as much as 100,000 yuan ($14,700) for undertaking certain types of business, such as agritainment (farm-based entertainment) and agritourism.

Positive expectations

Zhang Qun, chief of the new countryside development department at the Wuhan Municipal Agriculture Committee, said the government has positive expectations for the campaign, mainly because nearly 3 million urban residents, or 30 percent of the population, are age 60 or older in Wuhan.

“Quite a few of these people have both the enthusiasm and financial capability to move to the countryside and enjoy life after retirement,” Zhang said. “If 10 percent of them want to do this, that’s 300,000 people. That could present a huge market opportunity.”

Despite the benefits on offer, Zhang conceded that there are potential problems for tenants, landlords and regulators.

Some tenants are concerned that house owners may not honor long-term agreements and will terminate contracts when they feel like it.

Moreover, others want to buy the houses as an investment, but the current laws only allow outsiders to rent properties for no longer than 20 years.

Some villagers are worried that the tenants will adapt the houses for business purposes to such an extent that they will not be able to live in them in the future.

Some government regulators, especially those in charge of housing, doubt whether people who rent houses for business purposes will abide by the rules and refrain from expanding the properties illegally.

“But one thing is for sure, if your business loses money, the government will not cover your loss. The current policy does not even consider that,” Zhang said.

“Our stipend policy is equal for everybody. We will put our focus on providing guidance in advance. People should act based on their own situations.”

Source: China Daily Date: 2017-06-14