Central government efforts to save the mainland's dwindling supply of arable land from urbanisation have suffered a setback, after checks reveal that local governments are not complying fully with new regulations.
The Ministry of Land and Resources demanded last year that companies and lower-level governments which occupied arable land for construction projects compensate for it by cultivating another piece of land of the same size and quality.
It issued detailed evaluation criteria in August last year.
But a national inspection from January to June found that much of the arable land offered in compensation was of poor quality.
The mainland had 1,226,000 sq km of land suitable for crops last October, just 20,000 sq km more than the minimum the government deemed necessary to feed the huge population. Last year, 6,767 sq km of arable land was lost, of which more than a third was used for construction.
Thirty provinces and municipalities, excluding Tibet, scored an average of 11.1 points out of a possible 15 for their compensation efforts, with the highest getting 13 points.
Pan Mingcai , head of the ministry's arable land protection department, said this indicated that the quality of land offered in compensation was poor.
'The inspection found the biggest problem is the poor quality of the land provided in compensation,' Mr Pan said on the ministry's website.
'Many provinces compensated [for the loss of arable land] with land in far-flung places inconvenient for farming or with fragile eco-systems. The quality of the land is poor and some is even wild land.'
In one central province, the lands offered in compensation for 163 of 256 construction projects were of lower quality than those lost to the projects.
The inspection found that some lower-level governments had reduced, held back or even embezzled funds provided to cultivate the compensation land.
On the plus side, however, the inspection found that across the mainland, the area of land offered in compensation had actually exceeded the amount lost by 4.83 sq km.
Jiang Wenlai , a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, noted that the poorly executed compensation arrangements were hampering the central government's efforts to save arable land and would eventually affect food security.
'Sometimes the output of poor land is only half that of good land in the same city,' Mr Jiang said. 'It definitely endangers the overall grain output.'