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High-tech System to Monitor Disappearing Land
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Modern technology will be harnessed to curb illegal acquisition of farmland for property development, the Ministry of Land and Resources said yesterday.


By 2010 the new land regulation system backed up by satellite-based remote sensing and Internet communications among other things will cover all cities and 95 percent of land in rural regions, the ministry said.


Data collected by the system will include physical dimensions, soil quality ratings and ownership of every piece of land, said Fan Zhiquan, a department director at the ministry. He said the central government would deputize specially-trained staff to monitor changes to land use contracts and prevent illegal transactions.


"The supervision system is especially important now as the central government tries to control land supply to cool overheated investment in fixed assets," said Fan.


The rampant acquisition of land from farmers by local and grass-roots governments and loose credit supply have heated China's economy since mid-2003. Despite stricter land control measures and tighter credit the nation's economy still grew at 10.9 percent during the first half of this year.


In the long run, Fan said, the new system and closer monitoring of land use can help ensure that the country has enough arable land.


China had 122 million hectares of arable land last year, down from 130 million hectares in 1996. According to the ministry at least 106.7 million hectares of cultivated land are required to feed a projected population peak of 1.6 billion in 2030.


Experts said the monitoring system can help prevent infringement of farmers' rights.


"The system, which is widely used in developed countries, can stop local governments from grabbing land from farmers," said Jiang Zhongyi, a senior researcher at the Agricultural Economic Research Center affiliated to the Ministry of Agriculture.


Currently, some local governments acquire farmland for commercial purposes but fail to report the change of ownership to provincial or central governments so as to evade tight restrictions the central government has placed on taking arable land for business use.


Premier Wen Jiabao last month expressed concern over provincial and local governments using too much land for real estate development, the low transfer cost of land for industrial purposes and rampant illegal occupation of farmland.


The ministry responded by releasing regulations stipulating that all land for business, tourism, recreation, commercial property and other profitable purposes be transferred through public bidding and auctions.


(China Daily August 15, 2006)

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