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China Axes Golf Course Projects to Curb Fast Loss of Arable Land

Beijing has suspended approvals for new golf courses and started monitoring existing facilities to cut down on massive losses of arable land to unauthorized projects.

Golf courses currently under construction but lacking authorization will be banned and those already approved officially will be closely supervised in terms of land occupation, water consumption and environmental protection.

The city has 19 golf courses, with an additional 10 under construction, but eight of them do not have government approval. Statistics show the 29 courses occupy 3,708 hectares of land and possess 540 holes, 30 times the scale of a standard 18-hole golf course.

The move is to respond to the State Council's latest decision of clearing up reckless land snatches in the construction of golf courses.

The Ministry of Land and Resources released Monday rulings on five cases of illicit land use. Severe disciplinary penalties weregiven to government officials in Qihe County, east China's Shandong Province, who were charged with illegally approving the transfer of 186 hectares of farmland to build a golf course and a villa.

Golf course projects have been listed with road construction, property development and urbanization programs as major factors engulfing 230,279 hectares of arable land last year.

The ministry's statistics show that China lost 2.53 million hectares of arable land in 2003, compared with a 1.69-million-ha loss the previous year, a loss rate as high as 50 percent.

An earlier report by People's Daily indicated that there are 176 golf courses in 26 provincial regions, which is suggested as conservative as the figure does not take into account those under construction or with plans still under scrutiny of local governments.

"To my knowledge, only one golf course was ever approved by theState Council. Our ministry has never received any golf course land applications," said an official with the Ministry of Land andResources, the only state department with the power to allow the non-agricultural use of a land area over 70 hectares, or 1,000 mu.

Few local governments have followed the application procedure or the rules. They usually call golf courses "image projects" by claiming they are necessary for a good investment environment to attract foreign investors.

But farmers losing land are left with little assistance. In the autumn of last year, about 4,600 mu, or 306 hectares, of arable land was requisitioned by force by the Mashan district government of Jimo City, Shandong Province, which compensated farmers with a mere 400 yuan (US$48) per mu, far below market prices.

Economists have proposed the establishment of land appropriation, control and preservation systems, under which farmers as land contractors should be entitled part ownership of the plots they cultivate.
(Xinhua News Agency March 20, 2004)

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