Developers will find it harder to convert farmland to other uses under new rules aimed at preserving land for agriculture.
"Developers of commercial housing and industrial estates will face harsher tests than ever before to get the land they desire," Pan Mingcai from the Ministry of Land and Resources told China Daily yesterday.
The ministry issued a new circular on Wednesday requiring all applications for land to include detailed information about the planned use of the property.
"Once the applications are approved, the planned use cannot be changed," Pan, director of the ministry's department of cultivated land, said.
For example, if the land is to be used for real estate development, the applicants must show how their project meets local market demands to convince provincial land authorities of the need for the project.
Similarly, industrial developers must prove that their projects will help upgrade local industries.
Otherwise, their applications are unlikely to be approved, said Pan.
Pan said the new policy supported the ongoing national investigation into land use, which aims to reduce the massive number of land seizures for development zones and industrial parks.
"While the central government strives to reduce the excessive number of existing zones and parks, we've got to give fewer green lights to new ones," said Pan.
Seizing farmland for development zones or industrial parks to attract outside investment has become a shortcut for some grass-roots governments in China pursuing short-term economic benefits.
Pan said the practice had often led to inadequate compensation for the farmers whose land was resumed by the local governments.
Pan said the ministry is co-operating with other government departments to produce new rules to better safeguard the rights of farmers as far as compensation is concerned.
Pan also admitted China faces a tough challenge in preserving sufficient cultivated land to feed its projected population of 1.6 billion.
The ministry drew a line in the sand last August, saying the nation needed "no less than 106.7 million hectares" of farmland to provide for itself.
But against a backdrop of rapid economic development, China's total area of farmland has been falling quickly towards this threshold.
Ministry statistics indicate the area of farmland has decreased from 130.1 million hectares in 1996 to 126 million hectares in 2002.
(China Daily September 19, 2003)