China increases fallow land to reduce huge grain stocks

BEIJING, China (Reuters) — China’s ruling Communist party has for the first time proposed to let land lie fallow in some areas to ease pressure on exhausted water and land resources while grain stocks are near record levels.

China is facing severe water shortages and soil pollution after years of excessive cultivation and bumper grain harvests, the People’s Daily reported, citing a document from the party’s Central Committee on its 13th five-year plan.

“To implement an arable land fallow and rotation system in some regions will benefit land conservation and sustainable agricultural development,” according to the document issued by president Xi Jinping.

The program would help balance the grain supply, boost farmers’ incomes and reduce the government’s financial burden in storing grain, it said.

Leaving some farmland unseeded should not cause any shortages while China holds ample grain stocks and surplus global supply, the document said.

Agriculture consumes the most water in China, using more than 340 billion cubic metres a year, or 55 percent of the supply, the water resources bureau said last year.

However, some of China’s top grain-producing provinces, including Shandong, Henan, Hebei and Liaoning, are water scarce, say experts, and others are as dry as Jordan and Oman.

As well, ongoing urbanization and industrial development mean water consumption will continue to rise even as climate change exacerbates its scarcity.

China is already planning to cut its corn acreage in 2016 and encourage farmers to grow other crops as the country comes under pressure to reduce huge stocks of the crop.

Wheat farmers in the northern province of Hebei, which is suffering severe underground water shortages, have also been encouraged to fallow land or switch to less water-intensive crops such as alfalfa, the local government said last year.

Areas with groundwater depression, heavy-metal contamination and severely degraded ecosystems should be the focus for the trial system, said the document on the five-year plan.

The party document also reiterated the country’s grain self-sufficiency policy, particularly in the staples wheat and rice.

“We will raise grain productivity to ensure basic self-sufficiency in cereals and absolute security in staple food supply,” the document said.

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