China steps up farmland protection as grain output falls
 ( 2017.01.23 )

BEIJING, Jan 23 (Xinhua) -- China vowed to strengthen farmland protection on Monday as urbanization increased pressure on grain supplies.

Efforts must be made to stabilize farmland area and improve its quality to ensure grain self-sufficiency and food security, according to a document released by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council.

China aims to retain at least 124.33 million hectares of arable land in 2020, with no less than 103.1 million hectares of permanent farmland and at least 53.3 million hectares of high-quality farmland, the document said.

China had 133.3 million hectares of arable land at the end of 2015, official data showed. The government has set a warning level of 120 million hectares.

This level must not be breached, and the use of arable land for construction will be strictly controlled, the document noted.

It said that the arable land should be protected "the way we protect pandas."

The move came as China's grain output fell 0.8 percent year on year to 616.2 million tonnes in 2016 after 12 years of consecutive growth.

Despite a bumper grain harvest in 2015, China still had a shortfall of about 20 million tonnes in the amount of grain it produced and consumed, according to official calculations.

As industrialization and urbanization advanced, arable land reserves kept shrinking and the difficulty of restoring farmland was rising, according to Monday's document.

It reiterated the stance of sticking to the strictest rules of protecting farmland and using land economically.

The document also demanded more efforts to replenish as much arable land currently occupied by non-agricultural construction.