Arable land loss nearing danger point, say officials

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 April, 2007, 12:00am

Shrinking farmland threatens nation's ability to feed itself

Mainland authorities have warned that the continued reduction in the amount of arable land around the country is approaching the danger point at which China will not be able to feed itself.

In a national land use survey released on Thursday, the Ministry of Land and Resources said the mainland's net loss of arable land in the year to October, 2006, was 3,082 sq km.

That left the mainland with just 1,226,000 sq km of land suitable for crops, about 20,000 sq km above the critical 1,206,000 sq km warning level highlighted by Premier Wen Jiabao in his government work report last month.

Mr Wen stressed in the report that the country must ensure that its arable land never shrank to less than 1,206,000 sq km, the minimum needed to meet both present and future demand for produce.

The reduction in arable land on the mainland last year amounted to 6,767 sq km, of which more than a third was used for construction, 55 per cent was destroyed by natural disaster and ecological deterioration and about 40 sq km was lost to 'agricultural structural adjustment'.

The report said reclamations and demolitions had meant about 3,685 sq km was returned to cultivation during the year but that was still not enough make up for other losses.

According to the ministry, the illegal acquisition of arable land by local governments remained rampant in 2006, with 603 sq km illicitly approved for non-agricultural purposes. The ministry also said the number of illegal land-grab cases on the mainland rose 17.3 per cent last year to 131,000, with 3,593 people punished over the incidents.

The authorities have taken a series of measures this year to try to curb the rampant expropriation of arable land by local governments, including bans on the construction of villas, golf courses and race tracks.

Hu Xingdou , a sociologist at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said the key to protecting arable land lay in local government management of land used for construction.

'Construction and urbanisation can't be allowed if local officials seize farmers' land without reasonable compensation,' Professor Hu said.

'To better protect farmers' rights, the central government has stepped up efforts to crack down on illegal land grabs, but local governments can use various means to cheat to ensure revenue growth.'

The mainland has struggled to control rising social unrest in recent years sparked by farmland grabs.

In January, authorities in Foshan , in Guangdong, sent more than 1,000 riot police to clear a demonstration by villagers after they learned officials had no intention of paying compensation for their land.

On shaky ground

The mainland has just 1,226,000 sq km of land suitable for crops

The net loss of arable land, in the year to October 2006, in sq km: 3,082