Protection of arable land banks a joint responsibility: Minister

By Li Fangchao (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-13 07:02

The top land official yesterday called on governments at all levels to work to protect the country's diminishing stock of arable land.

Xu Shaoshi, the newly appointed minister of land and resources, said he has felt "mountain-like" pressure since he assumed the post three months ago.

The world's most populous country is feeling the pinch of a dwindling stock of arable land.

And the booming property market has only piqued people's desire for land.

Xu said he feels like he is "in the teeth of the storm" as he searches for ways to protect the land while ensuring economic growth.

While stressing the protection work is an "unshirkable" responsibility of the Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR), Xu called on governments at all levels to join forces - an apparent reference to the increased volume of illegal land acquisitions at the local level.

The country has drawn a "red line" to keep its arable land bank above 120 million hectares, to ensure sufficient food supplies for its people, who account for one-fifth of the world's population.

"Governments at all levels must keep in mind the 120 million hectare limit," he said.

The country lost 307,000 hectares of arable land between October 2005 and October 2006.

Most of it was lost to construction, natural disasters and reforestation, Xu said.

Renmin University professor Yan Jinming said the protection of arable land should be a joint effort on the part of all governments.

For instance, a large portion of the land lost last year was because of large-scale reforestation efforts led by the State Forestry Administration.

"We need to consider every move and stress the protection goal," he said.

Liu Yunzhou, deputy councilor of the China Land Society, said the protection of arable land was not only for maintaining food security, but also an important way to safeguard healthy economic growth.

"Keeping control of land use can help prevent economic overheating, excessive fixed asset expansion and gradually change the resource-based growth mode."

Wang Guoqiang, a researcher with the Institute of Geographical Sciences at Henan Academy of Sciences, said a series of measures conducted by the central government to tighten and regulate land use had effectively curbed the "impulse" of illegal land acquisitions at the local level.

Large areas of arable land can no longer be used for the construction of golf courses or racecourses, he said.

At the start of the year, the MLR doubled the land-use fee for arable land for new construction projects, a move many believed reduced the income local governments earned from selling land.

The ministry also set a minimum pricing standard for land sales for industrial use in a bid to stop local governments attracting investors with heavily discounted land prices.

Wang said the ideal solution was for local governments and the central government to share the same goal.

While continuing to crack down on illegal activities, the government should also try to use economic means to bring about a change of minds, he said.

"Like in the major grain production provinces, can we consider granting more subsidies to the farmers?" he said.

Renmin University professor Yan Jinming agreed.

"At present, farmers in some places get very little for a hard year toiling in the field," he said.

"How can we expect them to care about protecting the land?" he said.

"They would prefer to sell it than to keep it."

(China Daily 07/13/2007 page4)

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