Outdated farmland regulations are to blame for dwindling arable land on the mainland, Xinhua has quoted government think-tanks as saying ahead of rural reforms expected to be introduced at this week's Communist Party elite meeting. The mainland was facing a problem in balancing industrialisation and maintaining enough farmland to feed its 1.3 billion people, Xinhua said. A study of 145 mainland cities showed that 70 per cent of construction land used by big and medium-sized cities in recent years was farmland, it said. 'Each year the central government will allocate about 4 million mu [266,666 hectares] of land for construction use. About 2.8 million mu [186,666 hectares] of this is farmland,' said Chen Xiwen , director of the central government's rural work office. Beijing has made it a strict policy to maintain at least 120 million hectares of farmland. At the same time, rapid urbanisation and industrialisation mean tens of thousands of rural residents go to cities to look for jobs each month. Many villages have become industrial towns or new cities. The proportion of city-dwellers grew from 17.9 per cent of the nation's population in 1978 to 43.9 per cent in 2006 - still far behind that of industrialised countries, Xinhua said. Beijing has set a target of 70 per cent living in cities by 2050, a benchmark of a developed economy. But it also needs to come up with a plan to maintain its fragile food security. Mainland analysts interviewed by Xinhua pointed the finger at outdated land regulations and said reforming land ownership was the key to achieving the seemingly contradictory goals of urbanisation and food security. 'Land ownership is divided into state-owned land and [rural] collective land. They have different regulations and are managed differently,' said Li Chenggui , a rural expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Whenever a local government wanted to acquire a piece of farmland for industrial or commercial use, he said, the authorities had to compensate the affected farmers according to the Land Administration Law. But the total compensation level was capped at '30 times the average annual production of the land in question', Mr Li said. 'This means rural land is always cheap. You need to pay very little to convert a piece of land from the collective land category into state-owned land. 'Once it becomes state-owned land, its value will increase several fold. That is why local authorities are so keen to convert rural land into state-owned land with all sorts of excuses.' Another rural expert from the academy, Liu Weixin , said that unless the central government reformed the complicated land ownership structure, it would be very difficult to solve the social and economic problems it creates. The experts also called for more efficient use of land and the promotion of modern agricultural technology to raise production, Xinhua reported.