Population increase and economic growth have resulted in a sharp increase in food demand worldwide [1
]. This phenomenon is particularly evident in developing countries [3
]. According to the latest estimation by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), by 2050, population increase and economic growth will require a 70% increase in global food production and approximately 100% more in developing countries compared with the levels in 2009 [5
]. The high demand for food imposes a high risk on food security at the global level. Governments, the World Bank, FAO and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have implemented measures to solve these issues. Intensive usage and extension of cultivated lands are the two main means to solve these issues. However, intensive usage of cultivated land results in land degradation [6
], loss of biodiversity because of pollution [7
] and over use of chemicals [8
]. Meanwhile, extending cultivated land is a viable option. The global cultivated land has increased by 12% in the past 50 years [5
]. This increase has resulted in the loss of grassland or woodland and eventual changes in the natural environment [10
]. Cultivated land reclamation from abandoned construction land is a sustainable measure, particularly in less-developed countries, such as China and India, where resources disordered exploitation, economic growth and city sprawl have resulted in large masses of abandoned construction land [4
The urbanization rate in China increased from 17.9% to 54.8% between 1978 and 2014 and is predicted to increase to 60% in the next five years [14
]. Furthermore, the area of construction land increased by 294.1% between 1990 and 2012, and the rural population decreased by 23.7% [15
]. However, the area of rural construction land has not decreased but has instead expanded rapidly with a decreasing rural population in recent years [16
]. The area of rural residential land increased by 100,000 ha, and the rural residential land per capita increased from 193 m2
to 230 m2
from 1996 to 2008 [17
]. Meanwhile, a large number of the rural population is migrating to urban, with more than 120 million migrants per year in China [17
]. These migrants possess residential and cultivated land in rural areas. They are included in Chinese rural residence registration and are still identified as farmers [19
]. Given that farmer migrants work and live in urban areas, their residential lands are vacated yearly. Farmers who live inside villages tend to construct new houses at the edge of the villages for convenient transportation and leave their previous residential lands inside the villages. This phenomenon is referred to as “hollowed village” [20
]. The city sprawl and hollowed village occupied a large amount of cultivated land. This scenario poses a threat to cultivated land supply and food security in China by leaving only 9% of the world’s cultivated land as the source of food for approximately 20% of the global population. Chinese hollowed village reclamation focuses on transformation to cultivated land; it differs from village reclamation in other countries. For example, Botswana allocates vacant lands in villages to residential plots [21
], and Senegal and America reconstruct villages into new settlements [22
Therefore, the Chinese government and authorities have implemented multiple public policies to guarantee cultivated land supply for sustainable development. To increase its cultivated land supply by 16,000 km2
, China launched the “Law of Land Administration of the People’s Republic of China” (1987, 2004), “Property Law of the People’s Republic of China” (2007) and the “National Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Plan” in 2012 [24
]. By restricting residential land application, residential land ownership (“one residential land for one household” and “residential land belongs to village collective”) and reclaiming “hollowed villages”, Chinese government attempted to guarantee cultivated land.
Numerous studies have been conducted to alleviate “hollowed villages” and ensure cultivated land supply. Li et al. (2014), Crecente et al. (2002) and Miranda et al. (2006) suggested that the consolidation of rural residential land could alleviate “hollowed villages” and protect cultivated land [26
]. Calculating the land consolidation potential [29
], exploring the reconstruction patterns of rural settlements [30
] and exploring policies to maintain cultivated land [31
] have been intensively studied by researchers.
Despite many previous studies on this topic, no study considered the willingness of farmers, who are the most important agents in this process, to participate in the implementation of these policies. Understanding farmers’ awareness of the rural residential environment, knowledge of residential land-use policies, awareness of the consequence of transformation and willingness to participate in vacant residential land reclamation is critical to the effective implementation and management of these policies. The different factors that affect the willingness of farmers to cooperate must also be considered. Therefore, this study aims to: (1) quantify the awareness of the rural residential environment, knowledge of residential land-use policies, awareness of the consequence of the transformation and willingness to participate in the vacant residential land transformation of farmers in three groups; (2) identify the factors that affect farmers’ willingness to participate in vacant residential land transformation; and (3) provide recommendations for public policies that revolve around vacant residential land transformation.
Only around 50% of the farmers who own vacant residential lands were willing to transform their vacant residential lands into cultivated lands. Those farmers who were partly living on farming had a lower willingness to transform their residential lands than those who entirely and were not living on farming. Therefore, the willingness of farmers to transform their residential lands is dominantly influenced by their types. In this case, the differences in the characteristics of these farmers must be considered by the authorities before transforming vacant residential lands into cultivated lands.
Household income and length of residential land vacant time positively affected the willingness of farmers who were partly and were not live on farming. Over the past two decades, the farmers in China have continued to migrate to urban areas to earn high incomes [18
] but have failed to convert themselves into urban citizens because of the stringent household registration system. These farmers consider permanent settlement in urban areas as a milestone that can improve their status and identity [56
]. Nevertheless, the household registration system of China has changed over the years. For instance, those farmers who have purchased commercial housing may be converted into urban citizens in many cities. Meanwhile, those farmers who partly and were not living on farming yet have a high household income could be converted into citizens through purchased commercial housing and reside in cities. The length of residential land vacant time is another positive factor for those farmers who were partly and were not living on farming. A residential land that has been vacant for a long time may not be reused by farmers. Family size negatively affected the willingness of those farmers who were entirely living on farming. Therefore, these farmers must check whether their residential land is sufficient for their families.
The number of vacant residential plots significantly affected those farmers who were entirely and partly living on farming. Those farmers who own more than one plot of vacant residential land showed a high willingness to transform their vacant residential lands. In the rural residential land consolidation experimental regions in China, to improve the enthusiasm of farmers towards the transformation, the local government provided farmers with economic compensation for their demolished residential lands [26
]. Thus, these farmers were also informed that they would receive equivalent compensation for their transformation. Superfluous vacant residential lands are of little use to those farmers who are entirely and partly living on farming. Therefore, these farmers demand for compensation from the local government to increase their family income. Upon believing that the transformation will not harm the benefit of their household, these farmers willingly participated in the transformation [58
]. Therefore, their awareness of the consequences of the transformation can improve their willingness to participate in this process.
The knowledge of residential land-use policies positively affected the three types of farmers. Different provinces adopt various residential land-use policies which are based on “the Land Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China” [59
], In Chapter IV, it demonstrated that such a law applies to the system of compensation for the use of cultivated land for other purposes as well as encourages the consolidation of the rural area to increase the area of the cultivated land. The residential land-use policies published with the same cores emphasized the “residential land belongs to the village collective”, “one residential land for one household” and “residential land is a national welfare for farmers” [60
]. The Rural Residential Land Management Regulation of Henan Province illustrated these in Article 4, 12, 8, and 13. The department of land and resources of Henan Province implements such a policy in a top-down manner. Each household in register system was allowed to obtain one plot residential land with low price. In Article 4 of the Rural Residential Land Management Regulation of Henan Province, farmers have right to use the residential land, but have no right to sale the land. When the farmers violate these rules, they are then requested to dismantle the buildings attached to the lands and return the plot land to the village collective in accordance with Article 18. However, the basic level governments (county and town) do not strictly follow such polices, thereby driving some households to own one more residential land apart from their original plots.
Although the Chinese central and provincial governments constantly emphasize land-use policies, the majority of the farmers are still unfamiliar with these policies. We found that the residential lands might be vacant for years in our research areas and a communication gap exists between the farmers and the government even through Article 37 of ‘The Land Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China’ regulates that all units and individuals are forbidden to leave cultivated land unused or let it go to waste. Therefore, the publicity and transparency of the land-use policy must be improved to eliminate the communicate gap and increase the willingness of farmers to participate in the transformation.
Undeniably, the policies have important functions in controlling the sprawl of residential land. However, with the transformation of livelihood of farmers, it generated many vacant residential lands inversely. Our research confirms limitations of Article 39 of “the Land Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China” and the Rural Residential Land Management Regulation of Henan Province, because they didn’t refer to the vacant residential land reclamation. Thus, the policies must be supplemented. Transformation of residential land combines with the policies “one residential land for one household” and “residential land belongs to the village collective” would be necessary for the protection to cultivated land.
The awareness of the consequences of the transformation significantly and positively affected the willingness of those farmers who were entirely living on farming. Given that these farmers live in villages all year round, they are directly influenced by the transformation. These farmers demonstrate an increased willingness to participate in the transformation upon perceiving the benefits of such process [57
The awareness of the rural residential environment refers to the satisfaction of farmers with their village living environment. Such satisfaction can be interpreted as a hometown complex or a belonging to the hometown. Although farmers live and work in the urban region for many years, they may come back to rural villages to spend their retirement years [61
]. Therefore, such awareness negatively affected the willingness of those farmers who were partly and not living on farming. Although these two types of farmers infrequently use their residential lands, they consider the possibility of reusing such lands when they return from the urban region to the village. Improving the awareness of farmers about their urban environment may improve their sense of belonging to urban areas. Revising the household registration and social security policies in China can also enhance the sense of belongingness of farmers to urban areas.
Farmers are generally anxious about losing their residential lands and have communication gaps with their local governments (provinces, counties and towns). Although the “one residential land for one household” policy has been in effect for many decades, several rural households still own more than one plot of residential land because of the loose implementation of such policy at the local level. However, the rural residential land policy has become increasingly strict over the past years, and farmers are often limited when acquiring new residential lands for their families. In addition, the commercial housing prices in the urban areas of China have increased dramatically since 2000 to the extent that they have become unaffordable to farmers [56
]. Commercial housing price is an important factor that influences the rural–urban settlement decisions of migrants [57
]. Therefore, the anxiety of farmers about residential land loss is understandable. Most farmers are unfamiliar with the residential land-use policy, which is conveyed in a top-down manner. The communication gaps between farmers and the local governments have resulted in the low awareness of the consequences of land transformation. Several measures must be adopted to eliminate such anxiety, including the strict execution of the “one residential land for one household” policy whilst ensuring that each household can acquire a plot of residential land when needed. Improving the communication between farmers and local governments can eliminate the communication gaps and relieve the anxiety of farmers about their residential lands loss.