8.3 Million Acres of Chinese Farmland Lost to Pollution

China’s first public soil survey since 1996 shows that almost a quarter of the margin between the country’s total arable land and the “red line” minimum needed for food security has been eroded by pollution. From Xinhua:

According to the results of the second national land survey released on Monday, China’s arable land totaled 2.03 billion mu (about 135.4 million hectares) at the end of 2012, 227 million mu more than the “bottom line” set by the government to ensure food security.

[…] The three-year survey showed that China’s per capita arable land area shrank to 1.52 mu by the end of 2009, far below the world average of 3.38 mu, Wang said.

[…] To make the situation worse, soil pollution is also hurting farming, with around 50 million mu — about 2 percent of the country’s arable land — too polluted with heavy metals or other waste to be used for growing food, according to Wang. [Source]

Allocations of land for reforestation and other purposes leave the country “just slightly above” the red line, the report adds: the breathing room is tight enough to make use of land for graves a contentious issue. The Wall Street Journal’s James T. Areddy reported that the new data has been welcomed, despite some important omissions:

Chen Nengchang, a soil remediation expert with the Guangdong Institute of Environmental and Soil Sciences, described the release of previously secret information as a “big step.” But he said the data don’t give much indication of how much land is at risk from mild levels of contamination that could also harm crops. Nor does the release provide a ground-level understanding of problems in specific places.

[…] China’s government itself drew unwanted attention to the issue of polluted land earlier this year when its environmental watchdogs declined to release soil surveys. At one point, bureaucrats described the data as state secrets, prompting widespread consternation from environmentalists and even China’s government-run media.

[…] Almost a quarter of China’s arable land is located in areas considered poor for farming, such as hillsides, the bureau said. [Source]

December 30, 2013 4:46 PM
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