CHINA, alarmed at the loss of scarce arable land, now below the official danger mark, has called for an increase of 20 million hectares this winter. Sources close to the Ministry of Agriculture said yesterday farmland had fallen below 1.65 billion hectares - the 'warning line' set by the Government. There are now 1.62 billion hectares of farmland, a relatively small amount for the growing 1.2 billion population. The drop in arable land coincided with claims that grain harvests this year will be on a par with the record 45.64 million tonnes last year despite poor weather. It is crucial for China to keep the quantity of farmland above the warning line because the Government wants to avoid becoming dependent on imports to feed the people. In a recent circular issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, regional governments were instructed to increase farmland this winter by 20 million hectares. While agriculture is threatened by the lack of farmland, more than 100 million hectares in the south have been left uncultivated this winter, according to the circular. 'Our foremost task is to ensure more land would be used for cultivation and proper preparations are made for the winter sowing,' it said. It also urged farmers to improve the fragile base of agriculture by 'accumulating fertiliser, preserving good seedlings and boosting care for their fields'. Rapid economic development, urbanisation and non-farming development have resulted in arable land decreasing by millions of hectares per year. The Government has announced it wants to decrease by about 75 per cent the amount of farmland converted to non-farm use each year by the end of the century. In 1992, 413,400 hectares of farmland were lost, being used, among other things, for houses, office blocks and factories. A report from the semi-official China News Service underscored the problems caused by a serious drop in farmland in Guangxi Autonomous Region, which has become increasingly dependent on external supplies. According to the news service, about 600,000 hectares of farmland in Guangxi had been converted to industrial development zones in recent years. However, most of the zones were lying idle due to a shortage of development funds. Quoting official figures, the report pointed out that in 1954 arable land averaged two hectares for each resident in Guangxi but by this year it had dropped to less than one. The report predicted the average would drop a further 20 per cent in the next five years. 'Peasants' morale is low because they earn only meagre profits,' the report said. 'Some peasants prefer to rent their land for other business uses, or simply give it up.' It said the grain supply situation in Guangxi was 'pessimistic', made worse by the population growing by an average of 600,000 annually. The Guangxi Government has strived to maintain the area of farmland at more than 25 million hectares by introducing new regulations to curb property speculation and control the expansion of non-farm building projects, the report said.