Category Archives: Land Grabbing

Moats dug around Chinese villagers’ houses to drive them out

Trenches dug around ‘nail’ houses in Guangzhou Photo: Quirky China News/Rex

Villagers in one of China’s largest mega-cities have reportedly found themselves cut off from the outside world after waking to discover moats had been dug around their homes.

Telegraph | Feb 7, 2013

By Tom Phillips, Shanghai

Yangji village in the southeastern city of Guangzhou has reportedly existed for some 900 years.

As China’s economy exploded and the port city’s population ballooned to more than 12 million, real estate developers moved in and Yangji’s 4,000 residents found themselves facing eviction.

Some 99 per cent of Yangji’s villagers are now reported to have abandoned their homes, but at least six families have refused to budge.

(Quirky China News/Rex)

Now, in an apparent attempt to force them from their homes, villagers who have already accepted compensation deals have reportedly used earth-diggers to carve out moats around their former neighbours’ homes.

The plight of Yangji’s resisting villagers came to light this week in a series of astonishing photographs published by the Guangzhou-based newspaper, Southern Metropolis Daily.

“The ‘moat digging’ has been going on for over a month,” state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.

Some of the houses are completely surrounded by six-foot deep moats up to 12 feet long on all four sides, it added.

A villager named Mr Qin, who has refused to leave his home, said the moats were just one tactic “hostile” former neighbours had used to render the community uninhabitable.

(Quirky China News/Rex)

Since last November, Yangji’s electricity and water supplies have been repeatedly sabotaged, he claimed.

At least one villager, named as Li Jianming, was also beaten up. “The corner of his mouth, his teeth, and arms were covered with blood [and] his lips were split,” Xinhua reported.

In 2010, the China Daily newspaper reported that Yangji village was one of 138 communities in Guangzhou facing eviction as city officials embarked on major urban-renewal campaign.

Some 600,000 people were to lose their homes under the city’s plans to demolish “much of its old downtown, its urban villages and ageing factories”.

“As one of the key cities in south China, Guangzhou has seen a severe shortage of land for buildings,” local official Chen Jianhua told the newspaper.

Urban China’s thirst for land has created thousands of so-called “nail houses”, whose owners refuse to relinquish their homes.

In December, China’s most famous nail house – a five-storey building in Zhejiang province surrounded on all sides by a motorway – was demolished after achieving global fame as a symbol of forced evictions.

Forced evictions and land disputes are a major cause of social unrest in China, where there are tens of thousands of mass incidents each year.

This week, Chinese internet users weighed in on the unusual tactics being used to force Yangji’s remaining families from their homes.

“The property developer is really smart,” wrote one micro-blogger.

“The idea of natural moats is shockingly unprecedented. Really clever!”

Couple faces $97K in fines for using their own driveway

is this america
A sign at the entrance to PennyRoyal Self Storage. Howard and Lisa Gray had permission to use their residential driveway in Warren County to get to garages and storage facilities on the Montgomery County portion of their land….Still the couple is facing contempt of court charges and civil fines for the third time in a five-year dispute over continued access with Clearcreek Township officials, responding to complaints from neighbors. Image: Jim Witmer | Dec 1, 2012

By Lawrence Budd

CLEARCREEK TWP., Warren County — The six-year dispute between Clearcreek Twp. and Howard and Lisa Gray shows just how complicated, combative and costly local land use issues can become.

The Grays obtained permission from a Clearcreek Twp. official to use their residential driveway in Warren County to get to buildings on the Montgomery County portion of their land. The buildings house the Grays’ storage and landscaping businesses.

But following complaints from neighbors, Clearkcreek Twp. ordered the couple to stop using the driveway to access their commercial area. A judge subsequently issued an order to that effect.

The Grays say they have no other feasible way to get to that land, and they now face contempt of court charges and nearly $100,000 in potential fines for resisting court orders.

“We are just confounded,” Lisa Gray said. “I am just very saddened.”

Said attorney Jill Mead in a court filing Monday on behalf of Clearcreek Twp.: “We realize that, several years ago, (the Grays) were given bad advice. That in no way excuses their current behavior, which is to continuously ignore and, in fact, thumb their noses at the court’s orders.”

Michael and Howard Gray stand in front of a sign prohibiting the use of their driveway to get to to garages and storage buildings on a section of their land in Montgomery County. Lawrence Budd

The dispute

The Grays live at 2248 Pennyroyal Road, west of Ohio 741 on the extreme northern edge of Warren County in Clearcreek Twp., a traditionally rural community where home-based businesses are common and generally accepted. Their commercial land in Montgomery County’s Miami Twp. is just inside a special commercial zone established in anticipation of development around the new Interstate 75 interchange at Austin Boulevard.

Homes, some on multi-acre lots, surround the Grays’ land on the east, south and west. Commercial properties and a church border the Grays’ land to the north.

In 2004, the Grays say they invested about $300,000 in the garages and storage buildings on about three acres of their land in Montgomery County after receiving assurance from Clearcreek Twp. Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Palmer that access would be permitted via the long driveway leading off Pennyroyal Road to their home.

In 2006, after complaints from neighbors about noise, dirt and traffic, the township notified the Grays they would have to quit using the driveway to get to their commercial buildings. The Grays had added a landscaping business, worsening traffic and noise problems, according to the township.

During this time, the township’s population exploded, doubling to nearly 40,000 residents between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

In 2009, the township filed a lawsuit in Warren County, asking the court to deny the Grays access to their Montgomery County land via the driveway.

The township determined the Grays’ businesses failed to qualify as a home business in part because equipment involved in the business is stored outside the Gray’s home, one of two residences on the couple’s Warren County land, Mead said.

“The township’s policy is that legitimate home occupations are acceptable. If a commercial enterprise is being run on a residential property and does not qualify as a home occupation, it is unacceptable. Generally speaking, the township responds to complaints,” Mead said in an email.

Since 2005 Clearcreek Twp. officials have responded to 18 inquires about business operations in residential areas, according to township records.

Disputes goes to court

The Grays continued to use the driveway and filed counterclaims against Palmer and the township. They also failed to fully comply with orders issued by Warren County Common Pleas Judge James Flannery.

With reservations, Flannery issued the first in a series of rulings last year that prohibited the Grays from accessing their commercial property via the driveway. Flannery also rejected the Grays’ request for compensation for loss of the driveway’s use.

“If the court had equitable power to grant the relief sought by the Grays, it would do so. However, the court has taken an oath to enforce the law as written and not to legislate different results based solely on sympathy towards the affected parties,” Flannery wrote in a March 2011 ruling.

Flannery ruled the Grays were not entitled to compensation because they sought, but were denied, a variance by the township zoning board to continue using the driveway.

Orders call for the Grays to pay for a fence and entry system controlling access to the Montgomery County tract and assist the township in moving out about 50 storage tenants.

The judge also ordered the Grays to take down a sign advertising the storage business. The Grays complied, but installed another sign in protest.

“Is this America? Clearcreek Twp. and their courts have closed our family business after they approved it six years ago. Our American Dream has been turned into an American Red Tape Nightmare,” the sign reads.

Instead of paying the township to hire a contractor to build the fence, Howard Gray hired his own contractor.

“What’s the difference on the fence? It’s going to be locked,” he said.

Since then, Flannery and lawyers for the township and the Grays have worked out agreements to close the driveway at the Montgomery County line and clear the storage units. Still, the Grays are resisting in word and deed.

“I’ve been here since 2004,” Gray said. “They’re actually taking my land.”

The Grays could access the property by negotiating an easement or purchasing land from private landowners on the Montgomery County side, but an agreement seems unlikely due to the distance to a road.

The Grays’ lawyer, Andrew George, said the Grays deserve compensation.

“All of this stems from a government mistake. It’s up to the government to fix that,” George said.

Possible fines, costs

This week, Mead urged Flannery to find the Grays in contempt of court, which could trigger as much as $97,000 in fines.

Mead is the third lawyer to represent the township and Palmer in the dispute. Mead took the case in July and has billed the township $7,500 through Nov. 6. County prosecutors and lawyers retained through township insurance provided other representation at no additional charge.

If they comply, the Grays are expected to cover most or all of Mead’s fees, the cost of the fence and other expenses. Those costs total more than $13,000.

No hearing has been scheduled on the township’s contempt-of-court request against the Grays.

The “Final Offensive”: Two million to be moved off the land in one of the largest relocations in Chinese history

Between now and 2020 two million people are to be moved from their isolated mountain homes in Guizhou province Photo: Tom Phillips for the Telegraph

Some believe relocations exacerbate social tensions and can leave villagers even worse off, thrusting them into an unfamiliar world for which they were ill-prepared.

Several villagers even said they were unsure if their relocation was related to poverty relief or simply to clear the way for money-spinning infrastructure projects.

Two million people are to be moved from their isolated mountain homes as part of one of the single largest relocations in recent Chinese history.

Telegraph | Nov 1, 2012

By Tom Phillips, Wuling mountains, Guizhou province

It is billed as the “final offensive” against extreme poverty in China’s poorest province.

Between now and 2020, two million people are to be moved from their isolated mountain homes in Guizhou province as part of one of the single largest relocations in recent Chinese history.

It is a gargantuan task and one that will cost billions. But provincial authorities claim resettlement is the only way to eliminate the grinding rural poverty that continues to blight China’s countryside even after one of the greatest economic booms in human history.

“Even if we build roads to reach them, provide drinking water to them and work to alleviate poverty there for another 50 years, the problem might not be addressed,” Guizhou’s party secretary, Zhao Kezhi, said earlier this year.

“[The mountains] … barely provide the conditions for sustaining life.”

Long Jinhua, a 62-year-old resident of Longtan village in Guizhou Photo: Tom Phillips for the Telegraph

Decades of near-double-digit growth have propelled millions out of rural poverty, as migrant workers flocked to China’s cities, pumping remittances back into the countryside, and the central government poured billions into rural infrastructure.

But all is still not well in rural China and as the curtains come down on the 10-year era of President Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao, alarm bells are ringing in Beijing about entrenched poverty and what many say is a growing wealth gap between urban and rural China.

A recent study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that the urban-rural wealth divide had grown 26 per cent since 1997 and 68 per cent since 1985.

Last year, rural dwellers had an average annual disposable income of around £690, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, compared to £2,170 for their urban counterparts.

“China has succeeded in making a bigger cake,” state news agency Xinhua recently noted. “The problem now is how to divide it more equally.”

The wealth gap is immediately clear in Guizhou province, where politicians pushing the relocation scheme say some 11.5 million people live below the poverty line, with around two million in “chronic poverty”.

Outside the airport in its capital, Guiyang, a white-gloved chauffeur ushers a woman and her shopping bags into a black Rolls-Royce. But head northeast, deep into the Wuling mountain range, and a very different China is on show.

Declared a key anti-poverty “battlefield” by authorities, the Wuling region’s isolated mountain villages seem a world away from the spectacular skylines of Shanghai or Beijing.

Sitting under the tarpaulin-roof of his improvised schoolhouse, Long Qingfu, the 37-year-old chief and stopgap teacher of Longtan village, said relocation could not happen soon enough. “Longtan needs poverty relief. We have very bad roads, you see. We have no tap water.”

Mr Long pointed to the wooden wall behind him, onto which lessons were chalked in yellow and pink scrawl. “We have no blackboard,” he explained.

Home to around 570 members of the Miao ethnic group, Longtan has a long and proud history. But despite their emotional ties to the land, many locals are ready to abandon their ancestral homes.

“We want to move,” said Long Jinhua, 62, who was caring for her two-year-old granddaughter in the wooden house her family has called home for two centuries. Mrs Long said rural conditions had improved during the Hu-Wen era; roads had connected Longtan to the outside world for the first time, the price of grain had risen and her family had purchased a television set. But life was still a struggle. “I want to go to the city to experience a different life,” she confessed, suggesting it might also help her two sons find wives.

For a glimpse of what awaits them, Longtan’s villagers can travel 65 miles to Songtao, another county of ethnic Miao people, where relocation is already under way.

A roadside propaganda sign at the entrance to Yajia town reads: “TRY TO BUILD SONGTAO INTO A MODEL PLACE OF POVERTY RELIEF PROJECTS!”

On Ethnic Customs Street, Li Zhenze and his wife Chen Qunying showed off their brand-new second-floor apartment, fitted with all the trappings of urban life.

Natives of the nearby Ma’an village, they moved to Yajia with their three children in September, paying for the apartment with a government subsidy and personal savings.

“It’s better than the countryside – but there is no land,” said Mr Li, now unemployed and grappling with how to support his family in their new urban surroundings. Outside, an elderly settler used a wooden rake to dry grain on a brand-new concrete basketball court.

Ma Qingxin, the local Communist Party chief, said relocation had dramatically improved villagers’ lives.

“Relocation is one effective way of poverty alleviation,” he said, pointing to an industrial park and manganese processing plant being built near Yajia to provide jobs for the new arrivals. “Living is about [having] clothes, food, a home and access to transport. [But relocation] at least changes their poor living conditions. It is much better than living in the mountains.”

Analysts agree that the next generation of Chinese leaders must take urgent action to address the wealth gap, viewed as a potential trigger for unrest.

“Hu Jintao did not do much [to stop the] gap increasing,” said Mark Wang, a University of Melbourne scholar and expert in rural China. “The gap is still huge and people feel angry. It’s very dangerous for China. People expect [incoming president] Xi Jinping to fix the problem.”

But for all the fanfare surrounding Guizhou’s anti-poverty drive, not all see relocation as the best way to address the problem.

Some believe relocations exacerbate social tensions and can leave villagers even worse off, thrusting them into an unfamiliar world for which they were ill-prepared.

Several villagers even said they were unsure if their relocation was related to poverty relief or simply to clear the way for money-spinning infrastructure projects.

Prof Wang said that while such resettlements were generally positive, the views and rights of those being moved needed to be respected.

“You are dealing with people. You are moving people, not cows or animals.”

Simply moving people to new areas is not enough if they are not given the skills and opportunities to fend for themselves.

“If there is no is no dramatic change in the macro-system, if the distribution of wealth does not happen properly, the rural-urban gap will continue [to grow] and the rich-poor [divide] will continue,” he said.

Such complexities are lost on the children of Longtan village, who are already gearing up for the move and – their parents hope – for a brighter, urban future.

Inside their tatty-school house, a student had inscribed one final farewell onto the wall. “Bye-bye,” it read, in English.

Billionaires should be allowed to BUY up planets, claims expert

Could billionaires buy the moon? An American space expert claims that a loophole might allow investors to buy other planets | Apr 5, 2012

By Rob Waugh

Private companies should be able to buy land on The Moon or other planets for tourism, mining or even to sell property, a space policy expert has said.

Rand Simberg said that if governments started to provide property rights then entrepreneurs and billionaires might pile in and invest – and added that the ‘time is ripe’.

He has proposed a law that would circumvent the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which states no individual or government can have sovereignty over any body in space.

But such a move would mark a huge change in how mankind sees space and could open up the galaxy to a debacle akin to the Colonial era ‘Scramble for Africa’.

One government going alone might also incur the wrath of other nations who all remain signed up to the Outer Space Treaty.

Mr Simberg, who is based in the US, says that the law is open to challenge and does not explicitly forbid anybody from owning chunks of planets, so needs clearing up anyway. reported that his plan is called the Space Settlement Prize Act and was unveiled earlier this month at US conservative think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Any new law would have to work around the 1979 Moon Treaty Act which stops any nation from claiming sovereignty over The Moon, though major countries like the US and Russia have not ratified it.

Mr Simberg’s states: ‘The ratification failure of the Moon Treaty means there is no legal prohibition in force against private ownership of land on the Moon, Mars, etc., as long as the ownership is not derived from a claim of national appropriation or sovereignty (which is prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty)’

Another hurdle that would have to be overcome would be how people get to the moon – Richard Bransons’ Virgin Galactic has yet to even make its first commercial flight into orbit, let alone another planet.

But Mr Simberg said: ‘There are people who believe that rocks have rights; I’m not one of them’.

US space law lawyer Michael Listner told that ownership of The Moon and other planets was a ‘very touchy issue’.

Vietnam farmer a hero after shootout with police

In this photo taken Feb. 4, 2012, Nguyen Thi Thuong stands by the ruins of her house in Tien Lang District, northern city of Haiphong, Vietnam. On Jan. 5, Thuong returned home from dropping her kids off at school to find a mob of armed police in riot gear surrounding her farm house. Thuong knew authorities were there to forcibly throw the family off the land they had leased for fish farming but her husband, Doan Van Vuon, wasn’t leaving without a fight. In a guerrilla-style ambush reminiscent of a Vietnam War battle, family members laid homemade land mines around the house and fired on the advancing forces with improvised shotguns, wounding six police officers and soldiers. (AP Photo/VnExpress, Nguyen Hung)

MSNBC | Feb 10, 2012


HANOI, Vietnam — When local police arrived in riot gear to evict the Vuon clan, family members were ready with homemade land mines and improvised shotguns. In a guerrilla-style ambush reminiscent of a Vietnam War battle, they wounded six officers.

But instead of drawing public condemnation, last month’s rare violence by fish farmers trying to hold onto leased land in the northern port city of Hai Phong has made a national hero of family ringleader Doan Van Vuon and ripped open a debate about heavy-handed seizures by local governments.

Though Vuon and three of his kin remain under arrest for their role in the attack, retired military generals and a former president have weighed in on his behalf.

The case has attracted so much attention that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered an investigation, ruling Friday that the eviction was illegal and those who ordered it should be punished. He also encouraged local authorities to renew the family’s land lease.

Many Vietnamese see Vuon as a symbol of the country’s millions of farmers, many of whom are fed up with losing property or anxious about how new land rights laws will affect them as the government debates 20-year land grants that are due to expire next year.

Vuon stands accused of organizing the attack and trying to kill police, but state-run media have openly sympathized with him in investigative reports. Their dispatches have alleged that Hai Phong officials lied about details of the eviction. They also have said the family was cheated in 1993 when they were given a lease of only 14 years instead of what should have been 20 years.

Nguyen Thi Thuong, Vuon’s wife, remembers returning home from dropping her kids at school on Jan. 5 to find a mob of armed police in riot gear surrounding her farm house. She heard gunfire and explosions erupt before ambulances rushed in and medical workers began carrying wounded officers out on stretchers.

“Our family was cornered,” Thuong told The Associated Press by telephone. “We put all our efforts and money into our farm, but the authorities evicted us without compensation. It’s very unjust.”

Even before the standoff, Vuon’s neighbors considered him a local celebrity.

The college-educated agricultural engineer spent 18 years and his life’s savings turning 40 hectares (99 acres) of useless coastal swampland into a viable aquaculture farm. His daughter and nephew drowned in the process, but he pushed on and eventually built dykes capable of protecting the coastline from tropical storms.

Vuon, 49, had long been at odds with local authorities, and some legal experts say his 14-year grant agreement was illegal from the start. State media have reported that the surrounding area was slated to be developed for housing and an international airport.

Vuon and fellow farmer Vu Van Luan filed a lawsuit in 2009 challenging the proposed land seizure. Luan said the court had agreed to let them stay if they dropped the suit. But when they did so, the eviction order went ahead anyway.

That’s when Vuon allegedly planned the attack on more than 100 police and soldiers. According to media reports, he was not at the scene when the violence erupted. The farmer and several members of his family are now under investigation for assault or attempted murder.

After the raid, two houses on the family’s land were burned and bulldozed, forcing Vuon’s wife to take shelter under a plastic tarp. Local officials first took responsibility for the destruction, but later denied involvement — fueling rage among many following the case nationwide who have vented their frustration online.

In Vietnam all land belongs to the state, but sweeping economic reforms in the 1980s led to the 1993 land law that offered conditional 20-year land grants to many farmers. Legal experts say those leases will likely be extended when they expire next year, ensuring farmers quasi-private usage rights. However, other questions hover over clauses in Vietnamese law that allow authorities to seize land for national security or defense, economic development or the public interest.

In some cases, that translates into highways or industrial parks that bring jobs to the poor. But in an increasing number of cases, it means grabbing fish farms or rice paddies for swanky golf courses and resorts only accessible to the rich.

Most farmers accept compensation and move on, but a growing number have been resisting by filing lawsuits, holding protests or, in rare cases, battling police with sticks, stones or weapons. Millions of Vietnam’s poorest workers struggle to make ends meet as the communist country battles Asia’s highest inflation rate.

Farmers are typically compensated according to the land’s agricultural value, not the amount developers pay. As property values climb and financial stakes increase, land rights disputes are growing “increasingly public and angry,” said Mark Sidel, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin who consults on legal reform in Vietnam.

With popular frustration mounting against “rapacious developers and their allies in local governments,” he added, “Hanoi deals with these disputes with some care.”

And while Vuon’s case alone will likely not push the country into making sweeping changes to its land laws, it also cannot be ignored, especially since more than 70 percent of the country’s 87 million people still live in the countryside.

“Land issues affect the party’s legitimacy because they pit the local power structure against farmers on a playing field that is tilted in favor of the former,” said Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra.

In the Hai Phong case, Vuon’s struggle has won favor with some who see indiscriminate land seizure as a symbol of greed and corruption. A Hanoi-based blogger has raised about 223 million dong ($10,600) for the family’s legal fees, and former President Le Duc Anh has lauded Vuon as a model citizen.

“He should be encouraged, but instead he was evicted,” Anh told Giao Duc (Education) newspaper on Tuesday. “It’s so merciless.”

Vuon’s neighbors now worry they might be next to lose their farms. Prior to the attack in their sleepy seaside fishing community, they had planned to erect a statue in honor of the man who reclaimed swampland and tamed threats that wind and waves once posed to their coastline.

“The villagers considered him a hero,” said Luan, who filed the lawsuit with Vuon.

But now that Vuon is in jail for attempted murder, their plans for the monument have been put on hold.

The plan to force farmers off their land

WND | Aug 12, 2011

By Henry Lamb

Al Gore was beside himself when the Senate failed to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1994. Gore had spent the first two years of his vice presidency developing what he called his “Ecosystem Management Policy.” This new policy was nothing more than preparing the agencies of government to implement the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity and Agenda 21. These three policy documents were adopted in Rio de Janeiro at the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development.

Agenda 21 was the only document that was not an international treaty. It was, instead, a non-binding “soft-law” document that was designed to avoid the necessity of congressional debate or Senate ratification. Bill Clinton issued an executive order to create the President’s Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) especially to implement Agenda 21 administratively – without oversight or interference from Congress. The agencies of government have done a masterful job of infecting almost all urban communities with some form of government control under the guise of “Sustainable Development,” which is the objective of Agenda 21.

Now, the Obama regime intends to impose the same kind of control over rural America through his White House Rural Council, also created by executive order.

The rather bland 18-page Convention on Biological Diversity came with an 1,140-page instruction book called the Global Biodiversity Assessment. Page 993 of this instruction book says that the Convention’s plan for protecting biodiversity is “…central to the Wildlands Project recently proposed in the United States.” Page 15 of the Wildlands Project says:

“… at least half of the land area of the 48 conterminous states should be encompassed in core reserves and inner corridor zones … assuming that most of the other 50 percent is managed intelligently as buffer zone.”

Since the President’s Council on Sustainable Development was created, agencies of the federal government and complicit environmental organizations have been working overtime to get people out of rural areas and into “stack-‘n’-pack” high-rise so-called “sustainable” communities. Under the guise of “preserving open space,” unelected bureaucrats ignore the property rights of the people who own the open space and write regulations that sometimes require as much as 40 acres to build a single home. Quite often, development of any sort is absolutely prohibited. These regulations are typically delivered to a community through a comprehensive land-use plan.

In more rural areas, especially in the farming and ranching parts of the country, these measures have not been as successful as the government wants. That’s why a new extension of the PCSD is needed. This time, however, they are calling it the White House Rural Council.

This Council, chaired by the secretary of Agriculture and consisting of the heads of 25 government departments and agencies, is charged with extending “sustainability” to that part of the country that has not already been subdued by the measures implemented by the PCSD.

How will they do it? Let us count the ways.

Consider the Department of Transportation’s recent announcement of its intention to reclassify farm vehicles and implements as “commercial” vehicles and require all drivers of these vehicles to hold a Commercial Driver’s License. Applicants for a CDL must be 21 years of age, submit a medical record, a complete driving record from any state in which a license has been obtained and pass rigorous written and driving tests. CDL holders must keep a log of their activities available to law enforcement at any time, must not work more than 12 consecutive hours, must carry at least $750,000 in liability insurance and many more requirements that farmers and ranchers just can’t meet.

Farm children have always helped by learning early how to drive farm vehicles. Grandpa could drive the tractor, when he could not do the heavy lifting he did as a youngster. This DOT regulation will end farming and ranching as it has always been known in this country. Farmers and ranchers cannot afford to pay professional CDL holders to come plow the fields, mow the hay, or harvest the corn. Farmers and ranchers who can no longer make a living from the land will have no choice but to sell their land and move to a “stack-‘n’-pack” sustainable community. The only potential buyers for these farms are corporate agricultural conglomerates, land trusts, or the government. Since comprehensive land-use plans or other government regulations preclude the possibility of development in the open space, farmers and ranchers will never get the real value of the land.

To add to the hardship on rural families, the Department of Agriculture is still planning to require every farm animal to have an electronic identification ear tag, which will add more costs and bureaucratic red tape to farming and ranching operations.

Every agency that is a member of the White House Rural Council can, and will, find some regulation that rural land owners must comply with to stay on their land. This new executive order has but one purpose: to further tighten regulatory control over people in rural communities to ensure that their lifestyle becomes “sustainable,” or in plain language, government-approved.

Ghost towns on the increase as rural America accounts for just 16% of population

Blackout: This official graphic shows dominant U.S. urban areas, marked in white, while large swathes of rural areas are becoming darker as people move away

Migration will form a virtual mega-city stretching through Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Maryland and ending in the capital Washington D.C.

In 1910 72% of Americans lived in rural areas

Daily Mail | Jul 28, 2011

Vast swathes of the U.S. countryside are emptying and communities becoming ghost towns as rural America now only accounts for just 16 per cent of the population.

The 2010 census results suggest that by 2050 many of these areas could shrink to virtually nothing as businesses collapse and schools close.

This dramatic population implosion is the culmination of a century of migration to cities, as in 1910 the share of rural America was at 72 per cent.

In 1950 the countryside remained home to a majority of Americans, amid post-World War II economic expansion and the baby boom.

However, once busy areas have been abandoned, in South Dakota for example, the town of Scenic is up for sale for $799,000 as today just eight people live there.

Overall the share of people in rural areas over the past decade fell to 16 percent, passing the previous low of 20 percent in 2000, and is expected to drop further because of the economic crisis.

But in contrast American cities are booming and will continue to swallow suburban communities, producing a virtual mega-city stretching through Boston, Massachusetts, through New York City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Maryland and ending in the capital Washington, D.C.

‘Some of the most isolated rural areas face a major uphill battle, with a broad area of the country emptying out,’ said Mark Mather, associate vice president of the Population Reference Bureau, a research group in Washington, D.C.

‘Many rural areas can’t attract workers because there aren’t any jobs, and businesses won’t relocate there because there aren’t enough qualified workers. So they are caught in a downward spiral.’

The rural share is expected to drop further as the U.S. population balloons from 309 million to 400 million by 2050, leading even more people to crowd cities and suburbs and fill in the land around them.

In 2010, the census found cities grew overall by 11 percent with the biggest gains in suburbs or small- or medium-sized cities.

In fact, of the 10 fastest-growing places, all were small cities incorporated into the suburbs of expanding metro areas, mostly in California, Arizona and Texas.

In all, the share of Americans living in suburbs has climbed to an all-time high of 51 percent.

Despite sharp declines in big cities in the Northeast and Midwest since 2000 due to the recession, U.S. cities increased their share by 3 percent to a third.

The data was supplemented with calculations by Robert Lang, a sociology professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.

In the census ‘rural’ is generally defined as non-metropolitan areas with fewer than 50,000 people.

‘These new patterns suggest that there will be a blurring of boundaries as regions expand well beyond official government-defined definitions,’ Mr Frey said.

‘People like to have it all – affordable housing in a smaller-town setting but in close proximity to jobs and big-city amenities such as specialised shopping, cultural events and major sports and entertainment venues.’

Areas areas like the Great Plains in the central U.S. and Appalachia in the East, along with parts of the South and Texas, could face the most significant population declines, demographers say.

These places suffered some of the biggest losses over the past decade as young adults left and the people who stayed got older, moving past childbearing years.

Rural towns are scrambling to attract new residents and stave off heavy funding cuts from financially strapped federal and state governments.

Delta Air Lines recently announced it would end flight service to 24 small airports, several of them in the Great Plains, and the U.S.

The U.S. Postal Service is mulling plans to close thousands of branches in mostly rural areas of the country.

Many rural areas, the central Great Plains in particular, have been steadily losing population since the 1930s with few signs of the trend slowing in coming decades.

Among the struggling rural areas are vast stretches of West Virginia in Appalachia. Several of the state’s counties over the past decade have lost large chunks of their population following the collapse of logging and coal-mining industries.

Gates Foundation spends $1.7B on farming in Africa

In this 2006 photo provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates look at cassava seeds and root during a visit to a demonstration plot at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture research station in Abuja, Nigeria. The world’s largest charitable foundation announced five years ago it would spend millions of dollars to fight poverty and hunger in Africa, largely by investing in agriculture. To date, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $1.7 billion, but its leaders say it could take 20 years to see the results of that work. (AP Photo/ Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

It has drawn attention from a Seattle nonprofit called AGRA Watch, whose members say they are concerned about the foundation’s interest in genetically modified seeds and its relationship with African farmers.

Associated Press | Jun 1, 2011


SEATTLE (AP) — The world’s largest charitable foundation announced five years ago it would spend millions of dollars to fight poverty and hunger in Africa, largely by investing in agriculture. To date, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $1.7 billion, but its leaders say it could take 20 years to see the results of that work.

The foundation has focused on ways to bring to Africa the green revolution that swept Latin America and Asia in the mid-1900s, boosting productivity in those regions. Its hope has been that helping small farmers grow more would allow them to sell their surplus, boosting their income and putting more food in hungry mouths. More than 70 percent of the world’s poor depend on agriculture for both their food and income.

Some people have been helped, and the foundation expects more will be in years to come, but agricultural development happens slowly, said Roy Steiner, the foundation’s deputy director of global development.

As an example, he said some Kenyan farmers will receive seeds for drought-tolerant maize this year. They’ll try them out, see the results and decide whether to adopt them more enthusiastically next year. A year after that, increased production could give them more money to buy food for their families or fertilizer to improve their other crops.


“It takes years and years to shift the system,” Steiner said.

A more immediate impact might be made by buying and giving away food, and the Gates Foundation has done this indirectly with grants to groups such as Oxfam and CARE. But Steiner said the foundation doesn’t see this as a long-term solution.

“Giving food to people is certainly necessary when there’s a crisis,” he said. “But these people don’t want to be depending on outside charity. And, frankly, who is going to pay for all of that food being given?”

The foundation, he said, aims to prevent crises by strengthening agriculture systems.

It’s an approach anti-hunger organizations such as CARE and the United Nation’s World Food Programme also are taking. One-fifth or less of CARE’s budget now goes to the kind of direct food aid the nonprofit was created to provide 65 years ago. The rest is focused on agriculture development work similar to what the Gates Foundation is doing.

“This move from more of a charity approach to more of a capacity building and empowerment approach is something most of the major relief and development organizations have gone through,” said Kevin Henry, who directs CARE’s work in agriculture, economic development and climate change.

The World Bank estimates 338 million people live on less a dollar a day in sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S. government spends about $1.7 billion on food aid each year and about $1 billion a year on its Feed the Future Program, which focuses on reducing poverty and hunger through agriculture development.

Gates Foundation believes it can move more than 150 million in Africa out of extreme poverty by 2025 by improving agriculture. To that end, it has invested millions in seed research, buying and distributing fertilizer, improving farmers’ education and access to markets and political advocacy to get governments to spend more money on agriculture and to improve policies ranging from trade to land ownership.

Much of the work has been done through the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, which is run by Africans with heavy support from the foundation. AGRA has used Gates money to support plant breeding programs at nine African universities, help seed companies increase their production, set up soil mapping programs and provide credit to help seed, fertilizer and equipment suppliers expand, among other things.

It has drawn attention from a Seattle nonprofit called AGRA Watch, whose members say they are concerned about the foundation’s interest in genetically modified seeds and its relationship with African farmers. Co-chair Janae Choquette claims the foundation hasn’t talked to enough farmers to find out what kind of help they want.

“Their analysis of solutions is not coming from these communities,” Choquette said. “We want to support of the self-determination of farmers in deciding their own path forward.”

Steiner disputed Choquette’s claim, saying the foundation gets direction for all its work from farmers. But he also said one of its biggest challenges has been a lack of education among farmers.

“We want to make sure that we are really making things better over the long term, not making them worse,” he said.

The foundation says very little of its work involves genetically modified seeds.

Another big chunk of Gates Foundation money, $66 million, has been promised to the World Food Programme to help improve African farmers’ access to markets. The idea is the World Food Program saves money by buying locally, while its purchases put money in farmers’ pockets. Thus far, the program has spent about $30 million with small farmers and small- and medium-sized traders through its Purchase for Progress program.

The head of the foundation’s agriculture department, Sam Dryden, also is pushing it to help increase African farmers’ opportunities to sell their products beyond their own communities. The foundation has invested many millions in helping cocoa, cashew and coffee farmers reach the quality and quantities they need to sell to overseas markets.

A spokesman for Kraft Foods Inc. says that effort has resulted in his company buying some cashews directly from Africa, because the nuts can now be processed there instead of having to be shipped to Asia or elsewhere for processing.

Steve Yucknut, Kraft’s global vice president for sustainability, said the company hasn’t changed the overall amount of cashews it buys, but with his company and the Gates Foundation setting up processing plants in Africa, more of the profit from growing cashews stays in countries there.

Land Grab: John Malone Overtakes Ted Turner as Largest Individual Landowner in the U.S.

Land Grab: Media Mogul John Malone recently became the largest individual landowner in the U.S., edging out old friend, Ted Turner.

Forbes | Mar 10, 2011


When asked about the source of his lust for land, John C. Malone laughs. “My wife says it’s the Irish gene. A certain land hunger comes from being denied property ownership for so many generations.”

Malone, the 70-year-old billionaire chairman of Liberty Media, has well sated that hunger. He started his land feast slowly nearly two decades ago, collecting parcels in Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado. By the beginning of last year he had nearly 1 million acres. But in the last seven months, as property prices and the cost of borrowing have dropped, the hard-bargaining cable magnate’s land grab shifted into overdrive.

In August Malone bought the 290,100-acre Bell Ranch in northeastern New Mexico, after waiting years for it to drop to what he says was a “rational price.” (The ranch was initially listed in 2006 for $110 million, then for $83 million last year. Malone is rumored to have gotten it for closer to $60 million.) Then in February he made his biggest splash, snapping up 1 million acres of timberland in Maine and New Hampshire for a “fair price.”

With that acquisition Malone became the largest private landowner in the U.S., at 2.2 million acres, according to The Land Report, which tracks sales. He surpassed his fellow billionaire Ted Turner, who had held the title for the previous 15 years. Turner owns 2.1 million acres in the U.S. and has an additional 100,000 acres in South America.

The turnover at the top is fitting. Malone (worth $4.5 billion) and Turner (worth $2.1 billion) are longtime acquaintances and business partners. Malone served on the board of Turner Broadcasting in the 1980s and bailed out Turner’s company in 1987. In 2007, through Liberty Media, Malone became the owner of the Atlanta Braves, Turner’s old baseball team. (“I will always think of them as Ted’s team,” says Malone.) The two have neighboring trophy ranches in northern New Mexico (Malone’s 250,000-acre TO Ranch runs east from Turner’s 591,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch.) And it was Turner, 72, who “first gave me this land-buying disease,” says Malone, when the duo flew a helicopter over Vermejo. Says Turner: “Over the years I’ve shared my experiences with John. I consider him a good friend and have great respect for him.”

So no Hatfield-McCoy here. Malone recently visited Turner, who was “down in the dumps because I still have lots of dry powder and he’s pretty tapped out,” jokes Malone. “I think if it was a race, Ted would concede.”

Turner seems happy to do just that, saying he was glad to see Malone make his latest acquisition. “We’re working toward the same goal–to be stewards of the land and make sure it’s preserved for future generations,” says Turner.

But though their conservation ends may be the same, their means differ. “Ted’s idea of tradition is to go back to pre-European times,” says Malone. Turner famously poisoned a stretch of Cherry Creek–which runs through his Flying D Ranch in Montana–to rid it of the invasive brown and rainbow trout. (He replanted the stream with native cutthroat trout.) At Turner’s ranch bison roam free over land that’s been cleared of most signs of human habitation.

Malone, on the other hand, says, “I tend to be more willing to admit that human beings aren’t going away.” So he believes that trees can be harvested without damaging the ecology and wildlife. (“I’m not an extreme tree-hugger,” he says.) He will continue the sustainable forestry operation on the Maine and New Hampshire land (purchased from GMO Renewable Resources, a private equity firm). Malone is also looking at wind-power opportunities on the property and will keep the land open for public recreation, a Maine tradition. Malone takes the same “working farm” philosophy with his western properties, like the Bell Ranch, where he raises cattle and horses.

Malone wants to “break even” on his land, but there is more than economics involved. “There’s the emotional and intellectual aspect of walking the land and getting that sense of awe,” he says. “I own it, sort of, for my lifetime.”

Like Turner, he has plans to conserve most of it for beyond his lifetime, through perpetual conservation easements. “But I’m not going to kid myself and think that 500 years from now, with population growth, that the government won’t start putting people on the land,” he says. “But at least I tried.”


(Members of the Forbes Billionaires list in bold)

1. John Malone: 2.2 mn acres—With this year’s purchase of one million acres in Maine and New Hampshire, became the new top dog. Liberty Media chairman also owns property in New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado.

2. Ted Turner: 2.1 mn acres—Land in seven states. Strident environmentalist has more than 50,000 bison. Has begun renewable energy plant (solar) in New Mexico.

3. Red Emmerson: 1.722 mn acres—Runs family-owned timber company Sierra Pacific Industries, founded by father, “Curly.” Biggest landowner in California. Recently has begun placing some land in conservation easements.

4. Brad Kelley: 1.7 mn acres—Discount cigarette billionaire owns land in Texas, New Mexico, and Florida, mostly used to propagate rare animal species, like the pygmy hippo and okapi.

5. Irving family: 1.2 mn acres—Through the timber company, Irving Woodlands, the Canadian family owns forest land in Maine, most of which is sustainably harvested.

6. Singleton Family: 1.11 mn acres—Children of Dr. Henry Singleton, founder of Teledyne, Inc., run ranchland in New Mexico. Avid participants in local rodeos.

7. King Ranch: 911,215 acres—Land in Texas and Florida. Farm sugarcane, vegetables, citrus and pecans. The ranch produced 1946 Triple Crown winner, Assault.

8. Pingree heirs: 800,000 acres—Family’s Seven Island Land Company owns tract of land in Maine bigger than state of Rhode Island. Heirs of David Pingree, a 19th century shipper.

9. Reed family: 770,000 acres—Through Simpson Lumber Company, owns timberland in Pacific Northwest.

10. Stanley Kroenke: 740,000—St. Louis Rams and Arsenal owner owns cattle and recreational ranches in Montana and Wyoming.

Iowa population shifts from rural to urban

USA TODAY | Feb 12, 2011

By Grant Schulte

DES MOINES — Iowa’s population grew increasingly urban in the past decade as residents continued to leave rural counties and flock to a handful of larger cities, 2010 Census data released Thursday show.

Four of the state’s five biggest cities grew from 2000 to 2010, but only a third of its 99 counties did so.

Seven of those counties — all near urban centers — grew more than 10%. Five counties in rural western Iowa lost at least 10% of their residents.

The losses in rural Iowa are driven by a movement from factories and other goods-producing industries to more retail businesses, according to Iowa State University sociologist David Peters. He also attributes some of the losses to the combination of older residents dying and younger Iowans leaving for the bigger cities.

He predicts rural Iowa will continue a historic trend of merging school districts and other government services.

Fewer jobs will exist, Peters says, and small towns will slowly vanish.

“What we’re going to see by midcentury is a vastly depopulated Corn Belt and Great Plains,” Peters says. “You’re going to see ghost towns reappear.”
Census numbers where you live

Click here for an interactive map with data representing where you live.

The Census counted 120,031 more Iowans in 2010, a 4% increase from a decade earlier. More than half of that growth (58%) came from Hispanics. The number of Hispanics hit 151,544, up from 82,473 in 2000 — an 84% increase.

The increase in Hispanics is evidence that the state fared better economically than others, says Mark Grey, a sociology and anthropology professor at the University of Northern Iowa.

Grey says many are immigrants who found work in factories, slaughterhouses and farms.

“The reason they’re here is because we employ them,” Grey says. “I think this indicates you still have industries that are still very dependent on this workforce.”

David Cook-Martin, a sociologist at Grinnell College in central Iowa, says some Hispanics may have come to Iowa after working in larger cities that were hit harder by the economic downturn.

“Most people don’t want to leave where they’re from,” Cook-Martin says. “Economics has been a huge factor, but that gets lost in the heat of the debate these days. It takes something to move people from where they are. Going from a place like Los Angeles or Chicago or New York to a place like Iowa, takes some prompting.”

Polk County, the state’s largest and home to the capital city of Des Moines, expanded by 15%.

Linn County grew more than 10% despite a massive flood in 2008 that ruined thousands of homes and buildings. Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, gained 18%.

Much growth took place in the Des Moines suburbs, including West Des Moines, up 22%; Ankeny, up 68%; and Urbandale, up 36%.