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Cultivated Land Protection in the Course of Urbanization: Challenges and Policy Options


By Qin Zhongchun, Research Department of Rural Economy of DRC

Research Report No 179, 2012 (Total 4181)

I. Progress Achieved in the Conservation of China's Cultivated Land Resources

Since the reform and opening up, China's economic and social progress has developed continuously and rapidly, and the level of urbanization has been improved significantly. In the course of rapid urbanization, China has attached great importance to the conservation of cultivated land resources. With efforts and pilot practice being made unceasingly, a relatively complete policy system has currently come into being and, with the land management law as the principal part, the said system takes the overall plan for land utilization and the utilization control as the means and adopts as the instruments the basic farmland preservation system, the requisition-compensation balance system, the land development, rearrangement and reclamation policies as well as the cultivated land preservation, supervision and inspection system. China has been enforcing a growing number of measures to protect cultivated land resources and such measures are being made increasingly strict, and the protection efforts have been increasingly intensified.

1. Cultivated land for food safety has been basically protected

Ensuring the basic supply of cultivated land resources for food production and for other crop productions is a foundation for handling the relationships between the urbanization and the conservation of cultivated land resources. To tackle the severely decreasing number of cultivated land resources caused by the rapid expansion of industrialization and urbanization, China has implemented a rigorous cultivated land protection policy to step up the preservation of the basic farmlands. Having delimited the basic farmland preservation areas, China has unveiled regulations restricting any work unit or individual from altering or encroaching on the delimited areas. At the same time, the government has formulated and implemented the Overall Plan for Land Utilization, setting forth clearly the strategic objective of preserving 1.8 billion mu (15 mu make one hectare) of arable land by the year 2020, and has taken this objective as a "red line" that must be defended tenaciously and brought it to effect in every year's land utilization plans and in the day-to-day supervision work. Nationally, at present, the cultivated land resources have been well preserved on the whole, and the supply of arable land resources for food safety has been basically guaranteed, providing a powerful support for the constant growth of grain yield. Since 2004, thanks to the preservation of the cultivated land resources, China's grain acreage has mounted up steadily,and the country's grain total output has increased in eight years running.

Survey results show that all provinces and municipalities have mainly depended on the state-formulated Overall Plan for Land Utilization (2006~2020) to map out their respective inventories of arable land and basic farmland resources. Based on the inventory, they have drawn up various kinds of plans including regional development plans and urban development plans to have an overall control of the size of occupied arable land resources. Compared to the state-formulated number of cultivated land resources for preservation, the provinces and municipalities have not heightened their preservation targets in the main.

2. Progress has been made in the requisition-compensation balance of cultivated land resources

The requisition-compensation balance of cultivated land resources is one of the most important management measures for strengthening the land preservation in the course of urbanization. China set forward and carried out the arable land requisition-compensation balance system in 1997. Through years of practice and improvement, remarkable results have been achieved under the system, not only providing valuable space for the acceleration of urbanization, but also easing to a certain extent the pressure caused by non-agricultural land occupation on guaranteeing the supply of adequate arable land resources. During the 11th Five-Year Plan period, the nationwide construction-based land occupations reached a total acreage of 17.465 million mu. In the same year, 200 million mu of land resources of various types were rearranged, reclaimed and developed with great efforts, and the arable land resources were increased by 31 million mu, more than balancing the 17.465 million mu of arable land requisitioned for construction purposes, bettering the conditions for agricultural production, such as field irrigation works, networks of forests and roads, improving the quality of the arable land resources and laying a solid foundation for realizing the growth of grain yield in consecutive years.

Under the requisition-compensation balance system, currently various localities are seeking self-balance or making land adjustment with other localities mainly through exploitation of unutilized land on a massive scale, through renovation of some poor arable land resources available in rural areas and through supplementation and increase of arable land resources to provide land quotas for non-agricultural construction projects conducted in the urbanization process. In terms of the operating procedures, in accordance with the policy of "supplementing arable land resources prior to land occupation for construction purposes", "supplementing the arable land resources equivalent to those occupied for non-agricultural construction purposes" and "making a requisition-compensation balance", relevant departments of land and resources of various localities make investigations and set up land rearrangement projects and, in the light of the state-issued arable land occupation plans for non-agricultural construction and the arable land supplementation plans, conduct strict examinations before the approval. The said departments would raise funds through various channels, organize the construction of the projects according to the construction project management measures and exercise supervision, assessment and acceptance inspections.

To facilitate the efforts focused on both quality and quantity of the supplemented arable land and improve the quality of newly-increased arable land, relevant regions like Chengdu have made rewarding innovations in work. What they are mainly doing include: First, they have peeled the arable layers off the land occupied by newly-increased roads and ditches in the fields for construction works, the farmland occupied by central villages or compact communities, and slope land renovated into terraced fields, and moved the peeled-off fertile soil to new arable land to improve the quality of newly-increased arable land and increase the soil fertility; second, through comprehensive improvement of the fields, water resources, roads, woods and villages in the project areas, they have improved medium- and low-yield fields, renovated slope land into terraced fields, transformed damp fields and built drainage and irrigation canals and ditches; and third, based on the standard of 100 yuan for each mu of newly-increased arable land, the agricultural departments have conducted soil-testing formula-fertilization in the project areas and, to meet the requirement for agricultural industrialization after the completion of projects, have put forward soil improvement reports and have tested the soil improvement after completion of the projects.

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