PLANS to farm arable land are being hampered by local governments. A senior research fellow with the State Council's Development Research Centre said the local authorities were ignoring orders to turn fallow land into farmland. Zhao Shukai said the State Land Administration had unsuccessfully urged provincial governments to take back land lying idle for 12 months from real estate developers. Inspection teams were being sent to check up on provinces and farmland protection areas were being created, he said. 'To claim the land back, provincial governments have to compensate real estate developers but provincial officials are reluctant to pay the money,' he said. 'It is particularly difficult when the developer is a foreign investor.' Mr Zhao said abuses were serious in Guangdong and Shandong. This year, senior State Land Administration official Zou Yuchuan pledged to halve the amount of land diverted for non-agricultural use. Officials admit China is losing its farmland at an alarming rate. Every year, an estimated 223,000 hectares of farmland is used for real estate developments or by industry. In 1992 and again in 1993, about 405,000 hectares were sold to real estate developers. Last year, a further 433,000 hectares were lost. Mr Zhao said central authorities had put arable land restoration at the same level of importance as birth control. 'The State Land Administration will send more inspection teams to provinces to check on idle land and make sure local leaders enforce the order. We must speed up the restoration process,' he said. 'We have drawn up farmland protection areas in every province. No one will be allowed to change the use of this land.' He also disclosed that central authorities had decided to invest in a large-scale irrigation project in the plain between the Yellow River and the Huai River. The loss of farmland is hitting grain production. Output last year was 444.5 million tonnes, down from 456.4 million tonnes in 1993. In its '500 million tonnes engineering' programme, China has set an annual grain output target of 500 million tonnes for the Ninth Five-Year Plan.