China's total arable land shrinks nearly 6% from 2009-2019 - survey

A farmer plants seeds in a corn field at a farm in Gaocheng, Hebei province, China, September 30, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

SHANGHAI, Aug 27 (Reuters) - China's total arable land amounted to almost 1.28 million sq km (490,000 sq miles) by the end of 2019, down nearly 6% compared with a decade earlier, according to a once-in-a-decade survey of the country's land use published on Thursday.

The number - amounting to 13% of China's total area - is higher than the state target, which aimed to keep 1.865 billion mu (1.24 million sq km) of arable land off limits to urban encroachment by the end of 2020, the Ministry of Natural Resources said in a briefing.

However, the amount of land dedicated to agriculture has fallen by more than 75,000 sq km since 2009, when the last national land survey was conducted, with some converted to forest as well as industrial and urban use. China expects the total to fall further by 2030.

Wang Guanghua, vice-minister of national resources, told the briefing China needed to "adhere to the strictest farmland protection system" over the next decade to meet its targets. He also said much of China's territory remained idle or was used inefficiently.

China's scarce land has been under increasing pressure as a result of rapid urbanisation and growing demands of its industrial and agricultural economy.

China has drawn "red lines" not only to protect farmland from industrial encroachment, but also to shield some of the country's most vulnerable ecosystems - including natural forests, wetlands and habitats of endangered species - from human interference.

As much as a quarter of national land is now protected by the ecological red line scheme, though some critics say it is not always protecting the regions that need it the most.

Putting further pressure on its scarce land resources, China aims to plant 36,000 sq km of new forest a year over the 2021-2025 period, it said at a briefing last week. read more

Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri

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