cracked soil polluted farmland

China will try to clean up millions of acres of polluted farmland by 2020

China will attempt to clean up 90 per cent of its polluted agricultural farmland by 2020, the country’s environment minister Li Ganjie has said.

A 2013 survey showed about 3.33 million hectares of the country’s farmland - an area the size of Belgium - was deemed too polluted to grow crops, with estimated clean-up costs amounting to 1 trillion yuan (£112bn).

Li said China would conduct a detailed investigation into soil pollution and launch pilot zones that would be used to test soil pollution prevention and treatment technologies, according to an account of a weekend meeting published by the Ministry of Environmental Protection on its official website.

China declared war on pollution in 2014, trying to head off public discontent and reverse the damage done to its skies, rivers and soil by more than three decades of breakneck growth.

An extensive survey carried out in the seven years prior to 2014 found that roughly a fifth of the country’s agricultural land was polluted largely due to rapid industrialisation. Cadmium, nickel and arsenic were the top three pollutants found in the soil.

Most of the affected farmland lies along the eastern coast which is the most developed region and home to much of the country's heavy industry. Heavy metal pollution was particularly bad in the southwest of the country, the report found.

In addition to its agricultural plans, China will also restrict development on a quarter of the country’s territory.

Li said China would also aim to cut the amount of “below grade V” water - water unfit even for industrial use or irrigation - to less than 5 percent by the end of 2020. The figure stood at 8.8 per cent in the first half of 2017.

Improving the quality of drinking water is also one of the major priorities in coming years, and China would ensure that more than 80 per cent of its water is grade III or better - and fit for human consumption - by the end of the decade.

A groundbreaking five-year action plan against smog was completed at the end of last year and Chinese environmental officials confirmed last week they were now drawing up targets for 2018-2020.

As part of the new three-year plan, China would aim to raise the proportion of “good air days” to 80 percent in 338 major cities, minister Li said on Saturday. Other cities would also be under pressure to cut 2015 rates of PM2.5, a key smog indicator, by 18 per cent by the end of the decade.

At the end of 2016 the World Health Organisation declared that air pollution levels in Beijing and other northern Chinese cities are currently exceeding recommended limits by 100 times. 

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