Keep a red line for arable land

Updated: 2012-03-03 11:04

By Yang Liangmin (China Daily)

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Protecting farmland and ecology and developing agricultural technologies are essential for nation's long-term grain security

Despite a continuing increase in its grain output in recent years, China should make efforts to keep its arable land from dwindling in order to maintain its grain security.

China's total grain output increased for the eighth consecutive year in 2011, reaching 550 billion kilograms. Experts have attributed these bumper harvests to the government's pro-agriculture policies and measures, favorable climate conditions and the hard work of the nation's farmers.

The government's continuous preferential agricultural policies and ever-increasing fiscal input into the agricultural sector, have boosted the enthusiasm of farmers and thus spurred agricultural development.

Some local people have even reclaimed parts of Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province and Dongting Lake in Hunan province during their dry seasons for planting in order to gain subsidies from the government. And a campaign has been launched in parts of Anhui, Jiangxi, Hunan and other provinces in the Yangtze River valley to convert lakes into farmland.

Such shortsighted behavior has played a role in helping keep the country's cultivated area from drastically decreasing and contributed to its continuous agricultural harvests, but such actions only offer temporary benefits and are likely to have catastrophic environmental and ecological consequences in the future.

Worse, the country's continuous urbanization and construction of expressways and high-speed railways have eroded the country's limited arable land. This has increased the pressure on its commitment to maintain stable grain supplies in the coming years and endangered the nation's grain security.

China should not depend on grain imports to feed its people. As the most populous country in the world, China must fully realize the importance of maintaining a sacrosanct amount of cultivated land across the country to ensure a stable grain supply, especially at a time when its absolute arable land is on the decline.

At a time when urbanization makes it difficult to curb the dwindling of its arable land, China faces the challenging task of how to boost its agricultural output, which is compounded by the fact the country has yet to extricate itself from its excessive dependence on favorable climate conditions for its agricultural production.

For example, how can it manage to maintain grain output at a time when much of its "land of fish and rice" in the water-abundant Dongting and Poyang lake valleys are plagued by severe drought? The country should seek ways to effectively tackle its unevenly distributed water resources for agriculture.

It is an indisputable fact that China's agricultural harvest in the past years can to some extent be attributed to the over-use of fertilizer and pesticide, chemicals whose excessive use will surely negatively affect their sustainable production capacity. The ever-rising cost of materials, labor and land has also squeezed the profits of farmers and poses as a severe challenge to maintaining and boosting their enthusiasm.

In the No 1 Central Document issued on Feb 1, the central authorities vowed to develop agricultural technologies, extend more preferential policies to farmers and increase fiscal input as well as other preferential policies to boost agricultural development.

To accomplish this goal, the country should use legislative measures to establish and observe a red line for its arable land, try to keep the red line from being breached, no matter how tempting the projects, and resolutely hold violators accountable.

China should also look at the land rotation practiced in Germany, the United States and other developed nations and take into consideration adopting a similar policy to keep its arable land from over-utilization and restore fertility.

At the same time, a strict ban should be put on the reclamation of lakes or forests for farming in a bid to preserve the ecological balance and the much-needed harmony between the man and nature.

The author is a senior writer with the China Development Observation magazine, and the article was first carried in that magazine.

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