By Xinhua writers Jiang Xufeng, Zhao Wei and Ma Shukun
BEIJING, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- "Don't mess around with my food!" Many netizens have reacted with fury to an economist's criticism of the country's arable land bottom line policy.
A netizen named "sgy123" said on Friday that, "whoever went through the famine during the late 1950s and early 1960s in China knows how important food is. It is quite dangerous for 1.3 billion people to rely on imported grain."
Born in 1929, Mao Yushi, a domestic economist, should be familiar with that painful experience five decades ago and understand the importance of food to Chinese people. But he said on Wednesday, China's efforts to protect enough farmland for food security were harmful.
Mao, board chairman of Beijing-based Unirule Institute of Economics, said during a seminar held here on Wednesday that the government's set bottom line of 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) arable land was "a hurdle for Chinese further industrialization and urbanization" according to Thursday's National Business Daily.
Mao said unlike five decades ago, China had already solved the grain production and distribution problem and there was an abundant food supply in the world market, so there was a near zero possibility that starvation would hit China again.
Experts held that Mao's remarks were appalling and don't hold water. China consumes 500 million tonnes of grains annually, twice the size of global annual crops trading volume.
A netizen named "Heluofeng" said "we should not forget that since the second half of last year food prices surged in many parts of the world, which made millions of people suffer around the globe and caused social unrest."
What we should not forget either is that amid last year's global pressure to push up food prices, the Chinese grain price remained stable as the world's most populous country had enjoyed four consecutive years of high grain output.
In one of its latest moves to protect farm land, China's State Council, the Cabinet, approved a general outline for land use this August for the 2006-2020 period.
The goal is to ensure a proper use of farm land and guarantee a minimum of 120 million hectares of arable land, as feeding 1.3 billion people still remains one of the government's top concerns.
Zheng Weiyuan, an expert from the Ministry of Land and Resources, said 120 million hectares was enshrined in the outline after research and scientific calculation.
"China is on its fast track of urbanization and the land use outline achieved a balance between food security, ecological protection and economic development," Zheng said.
The world's largest developing country is facing a sharp conflict between land supply and demand. The area of arable land, shrank 610,100 mu (40, 673 hectares) in 2007 to 1.826 billion mu (121.7 million hectares). That was only slightly above the governments minimum total goal.
Zheng added experts predicted that the Chinese population would not surpass 1.5 billion and therefore we could got a rough idea of how much grain and cultivated land we need to feed them.
"We should leave some extra farm land and leeway for our future generations," Zheng said.
Figures revealed that China produced 501.5 million tonnes of grain in 2007, up 0.7 percent year on year. The country aims to ensure grain output staying above 500 million tonnes until 2010, and reaching 540 million tonnes by 2020.
That's part of the reasons why the country endeavors to replenish farmland before allocating it for non-farming purposes and steps up supervision to avoid arable land being seized against laws and regulations.
Zhang Xiaoshan, director of the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said 120 million hectares could only make China 95 percent self-sufficient in grain. He added if the country could have 200 million mu (13.3 million hectares) to 300 million mu (20 million hectares) extra farm land, the situation would be better.
To secure grain safety, the country aims to produce at least 95percent of the crops it consumes in the coming years.
A netizen called "Beibeibao" said "We would rather have a slower growth speed than make concession on the independent grain production policy. If a government fails to shoulder the responsibility in this regard, it would let Chinese people down. I fully support the protection policy of the farm land bottom line."
However, Mao blasted inflammatory remarks that to protect farm land shored up the country's real estate price.
He said Chinese housing price surge was not due to the price rise of steel and other building material or construction workers' salaries, but because of a limited supply of land, adding that this hindered the Chinese urbanization process.
A netizen named "lyuddd" said, "Even pupils in China know that the per capita farm land in China is shy of one third of the world's average level. The housing price rise in China involves complex reasons, but protecting farm land was definitely not one of them."
Another netizen called "cava" said, "To care nothing about food safety and push forward urbanization is just like the action of an insane guy who is not able to feed his starving belly but craves buying an iPhone."