By EDWARD WONG
Anxiety is growing in China about contaminated soil in the country’s agricultural centers and the potential effects on the food chain.
China Uncovers Poor State of its Soil
Pollution and other effects of urbanization and industrialization continue to take a toll on China's stock of farmland, the government said in a report Monday that provided fresh insight into one of its least understood environmental challenges.
Figures released by the Ministry of Land and Resources on Monday in Beijing indicated as much as 2.5% of China's soil could be too contaminated by heavy metals and other pollutants to farm. Meanwhile, the share of China's land that is arable fell by a fifth of a percent during the three years ended in 2009 due to pollution, urbanization and other reasons, the figures show.
In its report, the first on land conditions made public since 1996, the ministry described the trends as worrisome and said the nation's land situation remains 'grim.' It said China's stock of arable land has fallen in recent years and is less than half the world average per capita, for instance.
Wang Shiyuan, deputy minister of the Land bureau, told the press conference on Monday that China's Communist Party leadership determined fundamental risks remain after being presented recently with soil survey findings.
The Politburo decided, he said, 'We must follow the strictest land protection and land improvement procedures' to stabilize the nation's arable land.
The report left a number of questions about China's soil unanswered. Mr. Wang said the data came from surveys begun in 2006 and that the study was completed in 2009. It also wasn't clear whether the report and data disclosed on Monday fulfill a pledge by the Land Ministry in June to conduct a soil survey. Ministry officials didn't respond to requests for comment.
Chen Nengchang, a soil remediation expert with the Guangdong Institute of Environmental and Soil Sciences, described the release of previously secret information as a 'big step.'
But he said the data don't give much indication of how much land is at risk from mild levels of contamination that could also harm crops. Nor does the release provide a ground-level understanding of problems in specific places.
Contaminated land in China has gotten less domestic and international attention than the country's air and water pollution, which are tracked in ways that increasingly give the public an idea of what is happening. The land problem stems from similar industrialization trends, with ramifications for food quality and farmer health. In May, government tests showed the presence of cadmium, a heavy metal, in some rice supplies in southern Guangdong province.
The problem also strikes close to the leadership's concern that China is poorly positioned to satisfy the rapidly expanding appetites of roughly 20% of the global population with only about 10% of the world's arable land.
China's government itself drew unwanted attention to the issue of polluted land earlier this year when its environmental watchdogs declined to release soil surveys. At one point, bureaucrats described the data as state secrets, prompting widespread consternation from environmentalists and even China's government-run media.
Mr. Wang said medium to heavy pollution rendered unfit for farming some 50 million mu (8.24 million acres). He didn't elaborate and the accompanying report didn't provide a comparable figure, but cited pollutants in the country's major rivers and encroachment of major cities as key causes. A mu is a Chinese measure of area about one-sixth the size of an acre.
The pollution figure equals about 2.5% of China's 2.027 billion mu in total arable land in 2012, according to a calculation by The Wall Street Journal. The total arable land figure, down about 0.2% from 2.031 billion mu in 2009, was also a newly released by the ministry on Monday.
Almost a quarter of China's arable land is located in areas considered poor for farming, such as hillsides, the bureau said.
The government considers a minimum 1.8 billion mu of farmable land a 'red line' for food security. Mr. Wang said the party leaders reiterated the importance of protecting the baseline by ensuring 'the amount of arable land is stabilized.'
China's Communist Party leadership devoted chunks of the plenum policy plan released in November to issues related to rural land, including a pledge to 'shape new types of industry-agriculture and urban-rural relationships.' In recent years, China's land shortage has helped drive facets of its foreign policy, from state-supported purchases of farmland and agro-business groups around the world to its appetite for foreign agricultural commodities like U.S. corn.
James T. Areddy
廣東省生態環境與土壤研究所(Guangdong Institute of Environmental and Soil Sciences)的土壤修復專家陳能場稱，這些原先保密的信息得到公佈是邁出的“重大一步”。
根據《華爾街日報》(The Wall Street Journal)的計算，上述污染面積相當於2012年中國耕地總面積20.27億畝的2.5%左右。耕地總面積也是國土資源部週一新公佈的數據，較2009年的20.31億畝減少了大約0.2%。
在 11月份公佈的第十八屆三中全會政策規劃中，大部分內容和農村土地相關，其中包括承諾“健全新型工農城鄉關係”。近年來，土地短缺已成為影響中國對外政策 的一個因素。無論是政府支持的海外耕地購買、海外農業企業集團投資，還是進口美國玉米等外國農產品，無不反映了土地短缺的影響。
James T. Areddy