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Make Use of Low Hilly Slopes in a Scientific and Orderly Way and Strive to Relieve the Shortage of Farmland


By Gu Shuzhong Zhang Liang & Hong Tao, Research Institute of Resources and Environment Policies of DRC

Research Report No 3, 2012

I. Overall Development of Low Hilly Slopes Is an Important Way for Relieving Land Shortage

1. The basic national conditions that China has limited plains and basins but more hilly slopes determine the important status of and roles played by hilly slopes in terms of land development and utilization

China's mountainous regions and hilly lands make up 65% of the country's land resources. With arable land and back-up land resources being in serious short supply, the land reclamation rate has been lower than 10% in China. For example, in Zhejiang, 70% are mountainous regions, 23% are plains and 6% are rivers and lakes. The province now has 31.24 million mu of arable land (15 mu make one hectare), with the per-capita arable land reaching only 0.55 mu, yet the area of hillocks and gentle slopes is equivalent to that of the arable land; the province of Yunnan has a percentage of 94% of mountainous and semi-mountainous regions and a percentage of only 6% of flatland.

At present, plains and basins have been developed considerably and those are regions where population, industries and cities and towns gather. Therefore, the potential for development of those regions have become limited, yet those regions are shouldering the responsibility and pressure of ensuring economic development and guaranteeing the rock-bottom amount of arable land. Comparatively speaking, exploiting and utilizing mountainous regions and hilly land is at a low level and the potential is huge.

2. Development and utilization of hillocks and gentle slopes in China is at a low level on the whole and the potentials and prospects for an overall development and utilization are huge and broad

(1) Hillocks and gentle slopes are mostly special types of land. Most hillocks and gentle slopes are situated between mountainous regions and plains. Vegetation is less in those areas. Bed rocks are exposed with a thin layer of eluviums. The effective soil layer is thin, the ecosystem is frail and the loss of soil and water is severe. Nevertheless, such hillocks and gentle slopes have much potential to be used as land for construction.

Fundamentally, hillocks and gentle slopes are a typical "marginal land", a marginal type among various types of land, thus causing the instability of the land, and changes are apt to happen in uses of the land and the land is easily used as forest, grass, arable and construction land, which is usually known as "marginal switch of uses".

(2) Hillock and gentle slope resources are abundant. According to the preliminary survey and analysis of the potentials for development and utilization of hillocks and gentle slopes in Zhejiang, the province has 36 million mu in total of utilizable hillocks and gentle slopes, of which 33 million mu are suitable for farming, making up 91.71%; 2.48 million mu are suitable for construction, making up 6.83%; 520,000 mu are hard to utilize, making up 1.46%. The area of the hillocks and gentle slopes in Zhejiang is equivalent to that of the province's arable land, yet the hillocks and gentle slopes have limited population and industries, showing a great potential for exploitation and utilization.

According to preliminary statistics, the countrywide hillocks and gentle slopes account for approximately 10% of the total land area, being basically equivalent to the national arable land stock.

(3) Development and utilization of hillocks and gentle slopes are diversified. Hillocks and gentle slopes are generally used as: a. Ecological land such as forest and grass land. These land types are key areas for woods and grass and play an important role in national construction and construction of ecological regions. b. Land for construction. These types can be used as industrial land, residential land and infrastructure land (road, drainage, sewage treatment, trash treatment, water-supply and power-supply facilities, etc.). These land types can be used as land resources for the construction of cities and towns and new countryside and for expanding space for industrial development. c. Leisure and landscape area. Eligible hillocks and gentle slopes can be retained and transformed into leisure and landscape areas according to their specific conditions and the overall planning, which is beneficial to the maintenance of the ecological environment and the improvement of urban construction land and industrial landscape. d. Land for cash crops. Slopes can be developed for cash crops through land consolidation. In this way, more plains can be obtained as arable land that is more suitable for grain crops so as to increase grain yield and improve overall management. e. Arable land. Some hillocks and gentle slopes can be developed into or continually used as arable land through necessary projects or biological measures to provide support for national food security. f. Land for other purposes. For example, hillocks and gentle slopes can be utilized as land resources for developing new energy resources (wind power and solar power).

3. Overall development and utilization of hillocks and gentle slopes is an important way for relieving land shortage at present period

(1) The plights of ensuring the economic development and maintaining the rock-bottom amount of arable land need urgently to be relieved. At the time of rapid industrialization, urbanization and modernization currently taking place in China, there has been a robust demand for land, especially land for construction, and the pressure of demand for construction land has turned up completely. At the same time, China is confronted, and will be long confronted with the pressure and challenge of food security and there has been an ever-increasing pressure and requirement for protecting arable land. "Ensuring the economic development while maintaining the rock-bottom amount of arable land" has been and will be, within a long period of time, the plights facing land management. Relieving the plights requires a better management of arable land and land for construction.

(2) Marginal land is the main target to be achieved in relieving the plights. Under such circumstances, the hillocks and gentle slopes, as the "marginal land", have become the target and hope for relieving the plights: a. Marginal land is an expansion of construction land and an increase in total construction land supply, as well as one of the main channels for providing important land resources for industrialization, urbanization and construction of the new countryside; b. Marginal land is one of the important measures for reducing the number of arable land occupied for industrialization, urbanization and construction of the new countryside and infrastructure facilities and for effectively protecting arable land; c. Marginal land is a choice (though the choice is now at issue and should not be advocated at present) for complementing arable land resources according to local conditions; d. Marginal land is an important basis for optimizing land utilization structure and for gradually realizing the maximum efficiency by utilizing the land for farming, construction and forest purposes according to actual conditions.

The original intention of Zhejiang and Yunnan for exploiting and utilizing hillocks and gentle slopes differs slightly. The Circular of Zhejiang Provincial People's Government on Advancing the Overall Development and Utilization of Hillocks and Gentle Slopes demonstrates that "the overall development and utilization of hillocks and gentle slopes is a main way for realizing the equilibrium between occupation and supplementation of arable land, an effective approach for guaranteeing the reasonable land demand in economic and social development and an important measure for facilitating the construction of the new socialist countryside". Thus it can be seen that Zhejiang had an apparent intention of developing some hillocks and gentle slopes into arable land to balance the occupation and supplementation of arable land. The Views of Yunnan Provincial People's Government on Strengthening Arable Land Protection and Promoting the Scientific Development of Urbanization observes that "efforts should be made to earnestly change the urban and rural land use patterns, to strictly protect arable land particularly the fine land in dam areas, to promote the economy and effective utilization of land resources and to facilitate the scientific economic and social development". Thus it can be seen that Yunnan's intention for exploiting and utilizing hillocks and gentle slopes was in the first place to protect the fine arable land on which the people of Yunnan rely for survival whereas industrialization and urbanization was a "mandatory option".

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