China to make more polluted land safe for agriculture by 2020 - minister

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China will try to make around 90 percent of its contaminated farmland safe for crops by the end of 2020, and will also restrict development on a quarter of the country’s territory, environment minister Li Ganjie said.

Li said China would conduct a detailed investigation into soil pollution and launch pilot zones that would be used to test soil pollution prevention and treatment technologies, according to an account of a weekend meeting published by the Ministry of Environmental Protection on its official website (

A 2013 survey showed about 3.33 million hectares (8 million acres) of China’s farmland - an area the size of Belgium - was deemed too polluted to grow crops, with estimated clean-up costs amounting to 1 trillion yuan ($159 billion).

China declared war on pollution in 2014, trying to head off public discontent and reverse the damage done to its skies, rivers and soil by more than three decades of breakneck growth.

Li said China would also aim to cut the amount of “below grade V” water - water unfit even for industrial use or irrigation - to less than 5 percent by the end of 2020. The figure stood at 8.8 percent in the first half of 2017.

Improving the quality of drinking water is also one of the major priorities in coming years, and China would ensure that more than 80 percent of its water is grade III or better - and fit for human consumption - by the end of the decade.

A groundbreaking five-year action plan against smog was completed at the end of last year and Chinese environmental officials confirmed last week they were now drawing up targets for 2018-2020.

As part of the new three-year plan, China would aim to raise the proportion of “good air days” to 80 percent in 338 major cities, minister Li said on Saturday. Other cities would also be under pressure to cut 2015 rates of PM2.5, a key smog indicator, by 18 percent by the end of the decade.

($1 = 6.2984 yuan)

Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Paul Tait