China is losing arable land due to urban sprawl, construction, and “environmental” efforts to replant trees (produce lumber). Will China policy address an increasing reliance on imported grain (sans mercury) ? Is there a plan to increase agricultural efficiency(GMOs and/or pesticides via Stephen Johnson head of the U.S. E.P.A.)? One may think that the President and the Premier may broach these subjects. But when the President and the Premier meet this week, they may be consulting one another on the more central, philosophical question (can you dig yourself out of a hole)?
April 18, 2006
A survey released last month by China’s Ministry of Land and Resources revealed that the country has lost 8 million hectares, or 6.6 percent, of its arable land in the past decade, Beijing News reported.
As of November 2005, China had approximately 122 million hectares of arable land, covering 13 percent of its territory. This amounted to 0.27 hectares per capita, less than 40 percent of the world per capita average, one-eighth the U.S. level, and one-half the Indian level.
Several major factors are contributing to the land loss. In eastern China, a booming economy and growing urban sprawl have increased the use of arable land for construction purposes. Over the past five years, half of the country’s newly added construction land area, a total of 2.19 million hectares, was converted from existing or potential farmlands.
In China’s west, where the government has promoted restoration of degraded or fragile ecosystems, lower-quality arable lands have been appropriated for forest or grassland replanting efforts.
This has been the dominant driver of arable land loss in recent years, accounting for 84.5, 88.2, 91.6, and 87.3 percent of the annual net losses of the past four years, respectively.
Coupled with the shrinking of arable lands, China’s population has been growing by some 10 million people annually, and now comprises 22 percent of the world total. Yet the country is home to only 7 percent of all arable land, creating a rising food security concern, according to Xinhua News Agency.
Starting in 1999, China saw gradual declines in its grain output for five consecutive years, a trend that has only reversed itself since 2004. Experts estimated that domestic grain production will need to increase to more than 500 million tons by 2010 to ensure food security; current output is only 484 million tons, representing a shortfall of nearly 20 million tons.
Rapidly degrading land quality is exacerbating the situation. Most of the land being lost to construction in eastern China is higher-quality agricultural land. This has changed the overall makeup of the country’s remaining arable land; only 28 percent is now high-yielding farmland, while 32 percent is low-yielding.
Remaining farmlands are also suffering from pollution and soil erosion. According to statistics, one-sixth of China’s total arable lands are polluted by heavy metals, and more than 40 percent are degenerated due to erosion and desertification.
Alarmed by the worsening land situation, the Chinese government has tightened its control over land conversion for construction purposes in recent years. Meanwhile, most of the large-scale ecological restoration efforts in the country’s west are nearing completion. The pace of land loss is therefore predicted to slow in the coming years.