As urbanization and new factories devour more and more rural
land over the last few years, presenting a threat to the country's
food safety, the Chinese government is casting worried glances at
the nation's shrinking farmland.
China, which supports 22 percent of the world's total population
with just 10 percent of the world's total farmland, must focus its
land use policy on curbing the expropriation of land for
construction projects and on using existing farmland in amore
efficient manner, said Wang Xiaoguang, a senior economist with the
National Development and Reform Commission.
With the population expected to reach 1.4 billion in three years
from now, the government determined in 2006 that the absolute
bottom line for arable land was 120 million hectares if it was to
be able to grow enough grain to feed everyone in the country.
One way to curb the problem is to persuade farmers to use land
more efficiently and to start living "up" rather than "out", Wang
Ma Youming moved into a new flat with his wife and son six
months ago. He said, "I'm not a farmer any more, now I work for a
company. Most of my fellow villagers have started up small
businesses or are hiring themselves out as day laborers."
The 42-year-old Ma said his village Xinchang in Taizhou of
eastern China's Zhejiang Province, had 875 people in 250 families,
who had lived in an untidy, poorly planned environment for
But the villagers realized that the village did not have enough
land for them to build new homes after they became richer.
So they invited professionals from Zhejiang University, in the
provincial capital of Hangzhou, to help them. In 2003, the
professionals drew up a new plan for the village with land set
aside for public wonders: apartments for the former farmers rather
than houses on a section of land.
Village head Yu Zheng said that by going up in the air they have
increased per-capita living space from 37 to 82 square meters. And
"we have land left for commercial development. We've built shops
with a combined floor space of 2,500 square meters, and are
preparing to build a 19-storey building to rent out."
Last year, the village business garnered 1.5 million yuan
(200,000 U.S. dollars) in annual income, and the figure is likely
to reach 2.5 million yuan (330,000 U.S. dollars) this year, Yu
Ma Youming is satisfied with his new home. "We don't need to
worry about the property management of our apartment building for
it is paid for by the village business. And we don't have to pay to
give our neighborhood a green look either."
Yu said scientific planning and the efficient use of limited
land resources have transformed people's lives.
A report from Zhejiang Research Institute of Development and
Reform says rural houses in the province use land too capriciously.
If the land for housing is used more efficiently and
scientifically, at least 100,000 hectares of land can be reclaimed
for farming, equivalent to 5.7 times the land devoted to
construction projects last year in the whole province.
The campaign "Trade your rural house for an apartment", being
rolled out in economically-developed coastal regions, could save 40
percent of land used for home construction, mitigating the threat
to farmland and triggering consumer demands among former
However, experts say that "apartments for farmers" work best in
coastal regions and suburbs of large and mid-sized cities where
manufacturing and service industries flourish. Many years will pass
before they are adopted in underdeveloped western regions.
Authorities in neighboring Fujian Province took the theme of
this year's national land day on June 25 - "efficient use of land
and preserving farmland" - to heart. They compiled rural housing
charts, settling on 15 approved architectural housing styles that
suit the climatic, geological and economic conditions in southern
regions, as well as the living habits of coastal and mountainous
areas in the province.
They distributed the charts to 100,000 rural households in the
province and have helped 37,000 households build cost-effective
homes in a land-efficient manner.
Land efficiency does not stop with humans. New-style livestock
pens have also been built to save land.
The Xinling Farming and Animal Husbandry Co. in Jinjiang of
Fujian has built three five-story buildings for pig raising, each
for 2,000 pigs. After sows become pregnant on the fifth floor, they
descend by lift to the fourth floor to give birth. Piglets are
nurtured on the same floor, and after they "grow up", they take the
lift down to the other three stories to be raised there.
Efficient use of land is one barrel in the government shotgun,
and the other involves tightening controls over shady land deals to
prevent further encroachments on farmland.
Efforts to save land have begun to pay off. According to the
Ministry of Land and Resources, China had 122 million hectares of
farmland in 2006, down 307,000 hectares or 0.25 percent from the
2005 level. But 367,000 hectares had been converted back into
farmland, 42 percent more than the total area of land expropriated
for construction purposes last year.
China's population of 1.3 billion demand approximately 500
million tons of grain annually, or more than 300 kilograms per
capita. Last year the nation's grain production was 490 billion
tons or so. In other words, the 122 million hectares of farmland
provide just enough to feed the 1.3 billion people.
"Grain production needs to increase in line with the growth in
population. China cannot afford any further shrinkage in farmland,"
said Chen Qizhou, head of a research center under the Ministry of
Chen pointed out that China's population would grow to 1.4
billion by 2010. The figure of 120 million hectares of farmland is
a minimum that cannot be squeezed.
To improve land management, China has launched a second national
land survey due to be completed in 2009. It has also passed the
property law, which enshrines special protection for farmland and
strictly restricts the expropriation of farmland for construction
Construction of villas, golf courses and training centers for
governmental institutions and state-owned companies has been at
least temporarily banned.
In April, the National Development and Reform Commission, the
Ministry of Land and Resources and the Ministry of Construction
made a joint announcement on development-zone projects. They said
the number of development zones in China had decreased from 6,866
to 1,568 and new provincial-level development zones would not be
approved. The move targets poor use of land by unqualified
In the meantime, China is putting together a nationwide land
supervision regime and has set up nine regional bureaus.
According to the Ministry of Land and Resources, less land was
approved for construction projects last year. Yet, the ministry
admitted that 131,077 land-for-construction project cases were
detected nationwide in the same year, up 17.3 percent on the
previous year. They involved nearly 100,000 hectares of land, up
76.7 percent, including 43,000 hectares of farmland.
Observers noted that although land control policies are well
established in China, local governments' obsession with GDP growth,
poor policy implementation and low penalties for rural violations
have conspired to increase the number of infringements.
Zou Yuchuan, a national political consultant, noted that land
use and land protection do not figure in the performance assessment
system for local officials, who are eager to make "achievements" in
their political careers.
Experts suggested that the current land law should be amended to
curb local governments' power to approve land use projects and to
institute an effective accountability system. Also, they said that
a mechanism should be created to encourage the efficient use of
(Xinhua News Agency October 5, 2007)