In our newsletters we often state our mistrust in Chinese data, whether it be agricultural or economic. Often Chinese data is adjusted to fit what provincial leaders and Beijing planners have targeted for the year. One does not get promoted for being below output expectations.
The recent announcement by China's Ministry of Land Resources that China has 11% more cropland than they have been reporting since 2008 breeds suspicion. Why it took the Ministry four years to release this significant jump in available land is anyone’s guess. This "new" survey credits China with having a total of 135.4 million hectares (334.6 million acres) of cultivated land as of December 31, 2009. That exceeds the total reported for 2008 by 13.7 million hectares (33.9 million acres).
It is a good thing they found this extra land. In order to assure food security, China has determined that at least 120 million hectares (296 million acres) of land be reserved for agriculture, a policy known as the "red line". As the world’s most populous country, China’s per-capita farmland falls well below the world average with about 1.52 mu, or about a quarter of an acre, per capita.
Yet the government will have to subtract from this new total as other lands have been declared unfit for production. Mr. Wang Shiyuan, Vice Minister of Land Resources has publicly stated that 3.33 million hectares (8.1 million acres) of China's farmland is too polluted to grow crops according to a five-year, US$1 billion soil pollution survey that began in 2006. The rest of the survey results are being held as a state secret.
Deducting the 4.3 million hectares subject to significant erosion (slopes of 25 degrees or more), results in a total 7.63 million unfit hectares. Not far below the 13.7 million of “new” land coming available. Perhaps this cushion will provide cover for provincial officials to convert more farm land to industrial and urban development while still meeting all goals requested of them.