China's State Council endorsed a "National Agricultural Sustainable Development Plan" that calls for controls on agricultural nonpoint pollution, preventing loss of farmland, and raising labor productivity in farming.
The Minister of Agriculture immediately got to work by telling his staff to formulate a strategy for implementing the core directive summarized as "one control, two reductions, three bases."
One control = strict control of the volume of water used for agriculture.
Two reductions = reduce chemical fertilizer and pesticide use.
Three bases = better utilize three basic resources: plastic mulch, crop straw/stalks, animal manure.
The Ministry of Agriculture launched a "zero growth" campaign for chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Currently, use of these two chemicals is growing about 1.3 percent annually. They plan to slow the growth to 1 percent in the next few years and achieve zero growth by 2020. It is estimated that about a third of chemical fertilizer applied is utilized by plants; they want to raise the utilization rate to 40% by 2020. They also hope to raise the utilization rate of pesticides from 35% to 40%.
A rural researcher at China's Academy of Social Sciences said that agriculture contributes more to water and air pollution than other sources, but its contribution is often unrecognized. The plan targets the chief pollution sources: fertilizer runoff, pesticide contamination of soil and water, smoke from burning crop straw, animal manure, and discarded plastic sheeting used as mulch and for greenhouses.
The 2015 "Number one document" ordered provincial officials to strictly control loss of cropland and to maintain its fertility. In January, Premier Li Keqiang and two vice-premiers ordered implementation of a permanent cropland designation plan and enforcement of strict penalties for illegally converting cropland to unapproved uses. Last November, the Ministry of Land Resources issued a plan to designate tracts of permanent cropland on the outskirts of 14 cities, including Beijing. It is to be completed by 2016.
Deep-ploughing will be encouraged to improve soil fertility. Water-conserving irrigation will be expanded, and 800 million mu of high-standard agricultural fields will be constructed by 2020.
The plan also calls for promoting new types of "appropriate scale" farming businesses while strengthening the base of family-operated farms to realize the potential of "systemic reform." By operating larger farms, it is hoped that farm workers will have higher productivity.
There's nothing really new in this plan except the zero-growth target for fertilizer and pesticides. All the other measures have been around for years. However, in China policies are just for show until they are endorsed by top officials. The State Council's endorsement is a signal to local officials that they mean business on this now.