Inspection teams have been deployed across China to evaluate how well officials have been protecting the nation's 120 million hectares of farmland, it was announced yesterday.
Stopping the erosion of arable land was made the remit of provincial governors last year, with staff from the Ministry of Land and Resources now collecting data on how successful they have been and reporting any "inappropriate use" of land.
The findings, to be released by November, will be used to help the State Council craft the land use plan for 2010, said Vice-Minister Gan Zangchun yesterday.
Provinces found not up to standards will face punishments, such as a smaller quota of farmland approved for construction next year, reported Xinhua News Agency.
"Implementing the governor accountability is key to safeguarding arable land at a time when boosting domestic demand is the government's primary task," said Gan, who is also the ministry's deputy land inspector-general.
Governors should keep in mind it is of equal importance to realize the preset gross domestic product growth rate and keep the total amount of arable land above the red line of 120 million hectares, he said.
Xinhua reported the land watchdog is under heavy pressure, with maintaining the minimum level of arable land crucial to China guaranteeing enough food for a population of 1.3 billion.
According to a statement on Monday, the total amount of arable land was 121.7 million hectares by the end of last year, a reduction of 18,500 hectares. However, this is good news when compared to the average annual decrease of 755,000 hectares between 1997 and 2007.
The major causes of erosion include agriculture and farmland exploitation projects, railway and highway construction and urban development, according to a three-year study by the Ministry of Water Resources.
Source: China Daily