Land and resources authorities are to limit the amount of rural land that can be used to build new homes in a move designed to protect farmland.
The focus will be on main grain- growing areas, although most house-building projects that have already been approved will not be affected.
"With a growing population and rapid economic development, land is an increasingly urgent problem," said Sun Wensheng, minister of land and resources, at a national land management conference in Beijing over the weekend.
Part of the problem is due to the booming real estate market, which has encouraged investment in property and so the misuse of land.
Making the best use of land is essential in increasing farmers' incomes, Sun said.
To illustrate the problem, the Ministry of Land and Resources said the total amount of cultivated land dropped to 123.5 million hectares in 2003 from 130.1 million hectares in 1996.
The loss of farmland has affected food production, said Pan Mingcai, director of the Department of Cultivated Land Protection under the ministry.
Illegal building has triggered a number of social problems. In some areas, farmers have not been adequately compensated for lost land and, as a result, have staged protests.
As part of the efforts, the land and resources authorities in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, one of the country's major grain bases, resolved more than 220 farmland misuse dispute cases last year, paying out more than 515 million yuan (US$62 million) in compensation to farmers who lost land.
"Through land consolidation, more land has been earmarked for cultivation, improving farmers' living and working conditions," said Xu Fuhe, director of the Heilongjiang Provincial Bureau of Land and Resources, at the conference.
To improve transparency and avoid corruption in land management, land resources authorities in Chongqing Municipality in southwest China have introduced "sunny operations" to commercial land transactions. This means that every commercial land deal needs to be reached through public bidding and auctions.
The municipality has closed 126 illegal development zones out of a total of 176 such areas, clawing back 371 square kilometers of land, official data shows.
The State Council announced in December last year that it was determined to improve land management reform by adopting the "most strict" rules to stop rampant misuse of land throughout the country.
Local governments have been urged to check all kinds of development zones and temporarily stop approvals on any project that aims to use farmland for other purposes.
Land authorities last year conducted an unprecedented nationwide probe into rampant land abuse in development zones.
(China Daily March 15, 2005)