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Gov't Holds Fast to Arable Land
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At a press conference on July 12, Xu Shaoshi, Minister of Land and Resources, repeatedly voiced the need to deal with the ominous situation of dwindling land resources.


The central government has set aside 120 million hectares of arable land exclusively for agriculture use with crops designated for human consumption. Authorities have vowed that this 120 million hectares bottom line cannot be stepped over.


“The defensive war for arable land cannot be lost. Resistance will not be condoned,” Xu proclaimed. Such a solemn statement contains more than a nugget of truth.


The statistics available divulge that the Chinese people have a meager 0.09 hectares per capita of arable land, 40 percent below worldwide average. And the number shows signs of decreasing.


In 2005, 668,266 hectares were lost largely due to construction activities.


In 2006, China logged in 22,395 illegal land-use cases, involving 32,872.84 hectares of land.


In the near future, the pressing land-use situation will pose more challenges.


How much land will be needed in the future?


Indisputably, China needs more land to sustain its blistering economy.


Demands for land use mainly come from the house construction sector. Undiminished house-buying fever has rendered the available land inadequate since 2003. The survey revealed that people aged between 25 and 39, or 60 percent of the urban population, put great pressure on existing real estate when they purchase homes. An estimated 0.76 billion square meters are earmarked toward house construction each year.


In the next five years, construction for national infrastructure needs will require 3 million hectares, of which 2 million hectares will go to road construction and 0.2 million to railroad.


How to defend the bottom line of 120 billion hectares?


Preserving arable land while ensuring the land supply for economic development is definitely a catch-22.


The proposed “dynamic balance of total amount of arable land” mode can alleviate land shortage to some extent through the use of dykes and land reclamation. The Xiaoshan Economic Development Zone located in Zhejiang Province is a good example. Through reclamation efforts they recouped a total of 33,333 hectares from sea.


But meanwhile, a raft of hapless dyke building and reclamation projects has wrought damage on the fragile ecosystem, and put grain production in peril as well.


In this regard, our Japanese neighbor has set a good example. Their intensified land use features the use of high-rise buildings, both streamlining and optimizing land utilization. They have made the most of their limited land resources. Our country would benefit by emulating their strategy.


Liu Weixin, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), summed it up succinctly when he said: “The solution lies in well-designed plans aimed at intensified land-use, plans that parallel land preservation with our ongoing economic development.”


( by He Shan, August 16, 2007)

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