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China plans 100 bln yuan investment in next five years to improve farmland

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BEIJING, Dec. 18 (Xinhua)-- The Chinese government plans to invest more than 100 billion yuan (15 billion U.S. dollars) over the next five years to improve farmland for the nation's food security, according to the Ministry of Land and Resources (MOLAR) on Friday.

The investment aims to improve about 4 million hectares of land and replenish an additional 670,000 hectares of arable land in its major grain producers -- Hebei, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Shandong, Hubei provinces and Inner Mongolia and Guangxi autonomous regions.

An extra grain production capacity of 10 million tones will be added to China's agriculture industry every year if the plan goes smoothly, according to MOLAR, which supervises land use in China.

"On one hand, we need to protect the arable land base for grain security; on the other hand, we need to satisfy land use for economic development," Xu Shaoshi, Minister of Land and Resources, told Xinhua.

"It is a dilemma," he noted.

"To solve the problem, we need to use land more economically, reduce farmland seizures for industrial and residential use, while trying all means to increase our country's arable land area," Xu said.

China began improving its farmland in terms of per unit grain production capacity by upgrading the ecological environment for cultivation beginning in 2008 due to food security concerns over shrinking arable land amid the country's rapid economic growth and urbanization.

According to the MOLAR, China has thus far improved 4 million hectares of farmland and turned another 1.33 million hectares of reserve land into arable farmland, boosting its cultivated land productivity by about 10 to 20 percent.

China's grain output rose 2.9 percent year-on-year in 2010 to 546.41 million tonnes, marking the seventh consecutive year of growth, according to preliminary figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) earlier this month.

The country's grain production areas also expanded 0.8 percent from one year earlier to 109.87 million hectares this year, according to the NBS.

Food security remains one of the major concerns for Chinese leaders as the country's arable land continues to shrink amid rapid economic growth and urbanization while its population keeps expanding.

The Chinese government urged provincial governments across the country to conserve a total of 120 million hectares of arable land till 2020, because farmland shrinkage is threatening the country's grain production.

"Our country must hold fast to the bottom line of 120 million hectares of arable land area," Xu said. "This is the lifeline of food security for the 1.3 billion people."

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