Sat, Aug 05, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Farmland shrinkage could spark food crisis

AFP , BEIJING

Farmland shrinkage largely owing to China's rapid urbanization is threatening China's grain production and could result in food shortages, state media reported yesterday.

"The amount of land dedicated to grain production is expected to continue shrinking in the years ahead, but [farm lands] will still have to produce a minimum of 500 million tonnes to feed China in 2010," the China Daily said.

Urbanization and government plans to turn farmland into forests means vast areas of arable land would "irreversibly shrink" in the near future, Yang Jian (楊堅), a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture, was quoted as saying.

In the next five years, China's total grain-producing land area will be reduced at a rate of 0.18 percent per year, the ministry predicted.

Arable land has already shrunk by 8 million hectares between 1999 and last year, the Ministry of Land and Resources said earlier this year.

To reach the national production target of 500 million tonnes in 2010, 103 million hectares of farmland must be preserved, Yang was quoted as saying.

China used 104 million hectares to produce 484 million tonnes of grain last year, the report said. At the predicted rate of land shrinkage, the amount of land in 2010 will be just enough acreage to meet that target, it said.

"To maintain domestic grain supply ... arable land must be strictly protected," the report said.

Across China, farm lands are often arbitrarily seized by local government officials and property developers, then converted to either industrial or commercial use.

China's grain production rose 3.1 percent for the first time last year after five years of falling yields. China's falling yields have resulted in rising grain prices on global markets as the nation imported more grain and other food stuffs.

With shrinking acreage, falling water tables and a growing population, some grain experts have predicted that China will not be able to raise yields per hectare and the nation will remain a net food importer in the coming decades.

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