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Published January 06, 2014, 09:18 AM

China: land too polluted to farm

About 3.33 million hectares (8 million acres) of China’s farmland is too polluted to grow crops, a government official says, highlighting the risk facing agriculture after three decades of rapid industrial growth.

By: Reuters,

About 3.33 million hectares (8 million acres) of China’s farmland is too polluted to grow crops, a government official says, highlighting the risk facing agriculture after three decades of rapid industrial growth.

China has been under pressure to improve its urban environment following a spate of pollution scares.

But cleaning up rural regions could be an even bigger challenge as the government tries to reverse damage done by years of urban and industrial encroachment and ensure food supplies for a growing population.

Determined to make it right

Wang Shiyuan, the vice-minister of land and resources, says China is determined to rectify the problem and has committed “tens of billions of yuan” a year to pilot projects aimed at rehabilitating contaminated land and underground water supplies.

The area of China’s contaminated land is about the same size as Belgium. Wang says no more planting would be allowed on it as the government was determined to prevent toxic metals entering the food chain.

“In the past, there have been news reports about cadmium-contaminated rice — these kinds of problems have already been strictly prohibited,” he says.

This year, inspectors found dangerous levels of cadmium in rice sold in the southern city of Guangzhou. The rice was grown in Henan, a major heavy metal-producing region.

Crowded conditions

China’s determination to squeeze as much food and resources as possible from its land has put thousands of farms close to chemical plants, mines and other heavy industries, raising the risks of contamination.

With food security still the most pressing concern, China is determined to ensure that at least 120 million hectares (295 million acres) of land is reserved for agriculture, a policy known as the “red line.” The rehabilitation of polluted land is part of that policy.

A government land survey revealed traces of toxic metals dating back at least a century, as well as pesticides banned in the 1980s, and state researchers say that as much as 70 percent of China’s soil could have problems.

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