Chinese agricultural pollution
Date: 15/04/2015
Farm pollution in China is worsening, despite moves to reduce excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, said the agricultural ministry, urging farmers to switch to organic alternatives to tackle severe soil and water pollution.

But experts say achieving the ministry's goal will be difficult without sacrificing food output, a top priority in the world's most populous country.

China consumes around a third of global fertilizers, with rapid growth in use in recent years driven largely by higher fruit and vegetable production. China is the world's biggest grower of apples, strawberries, watermelons and a range of vegetables.

Excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has led to polluted water sources, contamination of soil with heavy metals and high pesticide residues on food, threatening both public health and agricultural productivity.

"Agricultural non-point source pollution is worsening, exacerbating the risk of soil and water pollution," said the agriculture ministry in a statement.

Growers apply 550 kilograms (1,212 pounds) of fertilizer to a hectare (about 2.5 acres) of fruit trees and 365 kilograms (805 pounds) of fertilizer to a hectare of vegetables, vice agriculture minister Zhang Taolin told reporters on Tuesday.

World Bank data showed China used 647.6 kilograms (1,427 pounds) of fertilizer per hectare of arable land in 2012, compared with 131 kilograms (289 pounds) in the United States and 124.3 kilograms (274 pounds) in Spain.

Pesticide consumption should be cut to 300,000 tonnes, down from the current 320,000 tonnes, said Zhang.

China's use of chemical fertilizer grew by an average 5.2 percent a year over the past three decades, reaching 59 million tonnes in 2013, Xinhua said last month.

"There is large space to reduce this growth," Zhang said, reiterating a target announced late last year to halt growth in fertilizer use nationwide by 2020.

"I believe it is absolutely possible to guarantee our food security strategy," added Zhang, while proposing farmers use more organic fertilizers.

Qiu Huanguang, professor at Renmin University, expressed doubt over the plan, however. "China's soil fertility is declining so it needs fertilizers to maintain it," he said, adding that switching to organic fertilizers such as animal manure was much more labor-intensive for farmers already facing rising labor costs.

"The agriculture ministry's main goal is to stabilize production, or increase it. Environmental protection is not their number one function," added Qiu.

Beijing also wants to promote the use of waste management systems at livestock farms and try to reduce pollution from plastic film, promoting biodegradable products as an alternative, said Zhang.

Farmers use 2.5 million tonnes of sheeting a year to prevent moisture evaporation and for weed control, but the plastic is often left in the soil damaging soil, water and animal health.

China is also targeting more efficient irrigation and recycling of straw left after harvesting for use as mulch, animal feed and biomass.

--- *One-Fifth of China’s Farmland Is Polluted, State Study Find*

New York Times, 17 April 2015

The Chinese government released a report on Thursday that said nearly one-fifth of its arable land was polluted, a finding certain to raise questions about the toxic results of China’s rapid industrialization, its lack of regulations over commercial interests and the consequences for the national food chain.

The report, issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land Resources, said 16.1 percent of the country’s soil was polluted, including 19.4 percent of farmland. The report was based on a study done from April 2005 to last December on more than 2.4 million square miles of land across mainland China, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.

The report said that “the main pollution source is human industrial and agricultural activities,” according to Xinhua. More specifically, factory waste products, irrigation of land by polluted water, the improper use of fertilizers and pesticides, and livestock breeding have all resulted in tainted farmland, the report said.

The study found that 82.8 percent of the polluted land was contaminated by inorganic material. The most common pollutants were cadmium, nickel and arsenic, and the levels of these materials in the soil had risen sharply since land studies in 1986 and 1990. The level of cadmium had risen by 50 percent in the southwest and in coastal areas and by 10 percent to 40 percent in other regions, Xinhua reported. The soil in southern China is more polluted than in the north.

The report confirms spreading fears among many officials and ordinary Chinese that the country a€™s soil has been in severe decline. Its numbers also indicate a more serious problem than statistics did in a book published in early 2013 by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Soil Pollution and Physical Health,€ which said one-sixth of China’s arable land, or nearly 50 million acres, was polluted.

Officials have become increasingly vocal about the problem in the past year. In December, a vice minister of land and resources, Wang Shiyuan, said at a news conference that eight million acres of land across China, equal to the size of Maryland, were so polluted that farming should not be allowed on it.

Hunan Province, in central China, has some of the worst soil pollution because it is one of China’s top producers of nonferrous metals. But it is also a large rice-growing area, producing 16 percent of the country’s rice in 2012, according to one market research company. Officials in Guangdong Province last year found that some rice had excessive levels of cadmium. Most of that rice was from Hunan.

It is unclear how the findings released Thursday related to a national soil survey that, according to a news conference in December where Mr. Wang spoke, was done from 2007 to around the end of 2009. Those findings have never been released, with officials calling them a “state secret.” Some environmental advocates said the survey ended in 2010 and have sought its results.

Source: New York Times / Reuters / Laofab
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