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China plans huge spending on farmland improvement

Updated: Jan 24,2017 7:00 PM     Xinhua

BEIJING — China plans huge spending to improve farmland quality in the next few years in hopes of propping up grain supplies as shrinking arable land has put the populous country under pressure to feed its people.

A total of 600 billion yuan (around $88 billion) will be pumped into the field by 2020, Han Jun, deputy director of the central agricultural work leading team office, said on Jan 24 at a news conference.

The central and local governments will provide the funds, Han said, adding that he hopes the efforts will also attract private investment.

It was the latest move in a nationwide official program to build “high-standard cropland,” which, according to official documents, refers to large-scale, contiguous plots of land with fertile soil and modern farming facilities. This type of farmland can maintain stable and high yields and has sound ecological condition and strong capacity to resist natural disasters.

China improved around 26.87 million hectares of farmland to meet those standards from 2011 to 2015. The Ministry of Land and Resources estimates there will be a 10- to 20-percent rise in grain production capacity.

With the new investment plan, improvement of another 26.67 million hectares can be completed by 2020, Han said, adding the government will try to hit 40 million hectares.

China’s arable land reserves have been falling in recent years, some occupied by construction of new homes and factories and some replanted with trees and grass for ecological protection. The phenomenon, along with the first drop in grain output in more than a decade last year, has added to concerns about food security.

The country still had a shortfall of about 20 million tonnes in the amount of grain it produced and consumed, according to official calculations.

China is eyeing the farmland-improvement program to help boost grain yields and modernize agriculture.

Efforts must be made to stabilize farmland area and improve its quality to ensure grain self-sufficiency and food security, according to a document released on Jan 23 by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council.

The document demanded more efforts to replenish, as much arable land is currently occupied by nonagricultural construction.

China aims to retain at least 124.33 million hectares of arable land in 2020, and the figure was 133.3 million hectares at the end of 2015. The government has set a warning level of 120 million hectares and reiterated the level must not be breached.

The arable land should be protected “the way we protect pandas,” according to the document.