Defending China's arable land area from further shrinking is a war that cannot be lost, and it can be won with tactics, a senior official said yesterday.
"The red line of 120 million hectares of arable land cannot be crossed," Minister of Land and Resources Xu Shaoshi said.
The central authorities have pegged 120 million hectares as the official minimum of arable land deemed necessary to feed the country's population, and pledged to implement the "most rigid" measures to protect the land.
At the end of last year, arable land was 121.8 million hectares compared with 122 million hectares in 2005.
"Admittedly, it's rather difficult to protect arable land while at the same time ensuring (the supply of land for) development we must find a solution to the conundrum as soon as possible. "
Xu, who assumed his post nearly three months ago, conceded that infractions such as illegal land seizures and arbitrary changing of farmland zoning, had made land protection all the more urgent.
In the first five months of this year alone, China logged at least 24,200 illegal land-use cases involving 14,700 hectares, only slightly lower than the same period last year, Xu told a press conference held by the State Council Information Office.
About 80 percent of all cases of illegal use of land involve houses built in the countryside.
The remaining 20 percent pertain to local governments approving land use against the law. But the latter cases account for 80 percent of all illegal land, he said.
This was partly why the central government put into place a "State land inspection system" last year, according to the ministry.
"The national interest comes above all else," Xu said. "We will allow no leeway in our fight to guard the 120 million hectare red line, and we most definitely will."
Part of the confidence comes from the fact that there is potential to make more land available for cultivation and development, according to the minister.
China has about 260 million hectares of unused land which could be utilized, he said, without giving details.
Another 13.3 million hectares that had been abandoned for various reasons can also be reclaimed, he said.
Over the five years since 2000, China added an average of 285,300 hectares of arable land each year through various means, Xu said.
"What is crucial is that construction should, as much as possible, not be on farmland, and if it must, it should use as little land as possible."
(China Daily July 13, 2007)