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Stimulus sops up farmland
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08:28, December 31, 2008

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A total of 40,000 hectares of arable land will be acquired in the coming two years for the projects listed in the 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus package, a senior official said yesterday.

The amount, however, would meet only half of the demand, Dong Zouji, director of the Ministry of Land and Resources' planning department, said. The rest of the land acquired for the projects will be non-arable.

The acquisition of the farmland for various projects, such as railways, airports and residential buildings, will not threaten China's food security, Dong said, because the move is designed to be carried out in a controlled way.

A limit of 1 million hectares of arable land can be acquired for economic development from 2006 to 2010, and of 3 million from 2006 to 2020, a land use blueprint released early this year said.

So, 40,000 hectares "are not a big deal", Dong said.

A program to convert non-farmland to arable land can also help reclaim some land lost to the acquisitions.

China had 122 million hectares of arable land at the end of 2006, slightly more than the 120 million needed to feed its 1.3 billion people, the ministry data showed. It cultivated 367,000 hectares for agriculture that year - equivalent to 42 percent of the arable land acquired.

However, the land acquisition will have a short-term impact on farmers, Dong said.

"Thousands of farmers will be relocated or lose their land as railways or water projects are built in their villages," he said.

Officials said improved inspections and compensations will ensure appropriate arable land acquisitions and protect farmers' rights.

"Compensations will be equivalent to their losses," Dong said.

The department's chief planner Hu Cunzhi said land use in 84 major cities is closely monitored with the help of satellites.

But experts warned dwindling amounts of arable land would harm the country in the long run.

Tong Zhihui, a professor at the school of agricultural economics and rural development at Renmin University of China, said accelerating development at the cost of farmland and ensuring a fair compensation system are two top concerns.

Local governments may acquire farmland in the case of expanded domestic demand, he said.

If the projects are not profitable or beneficial, the move would be "pursuing short-term profits at the cost of long-term ones", he said.

The loss of arable land without proper compensation would definitely harm farmers, he added.

Source: China Daily

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