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China to monitor land use via satellite

BEIJING, March 14 (Xinhua) — China will resort to satellite remote sensing technologies to monitor land use and protect the legitimate rights of farmers, an official said here on Friday.

Ministry of Land and Resources will start using the high-tech devices this year to detect and prevent illegal use of land, particularly arable land, said vice minister Yun Xiaosu at a press conference during the annual parliamentary session.

Yun said his ministry will draw up a satellite map covering the country’s 9.6 million square kilometers of territory, to protect arable land from illicit expropriation and safeguard the legitimate land rights of farmers.

“The Chinese government has taken legal and policy measures to protect the farmers’ rights in land use, particularly land appropriated for farming and building homes,” Yun said in response to a question.

Meanwhile, the central and local governments have also worked to protect the rights of farmers whose land were expropriated, he said without elaborating.

China seized 31,700 land use violation cases in a 100-day campaign starting in September, involving more than 200,000 hectares of land.

The campaign aimed at cracking down on local governments that illegally transferred household land to property developers, and punishing officials who failed to seek permission from higher authorities for land use and those who flouted decrees to expand the size of development zones.

China had 121 million hectares of arable land at the end of 2006, or 0.09 hectares per person, down 8.3 million hectares and 0.02 hectare respectively from 1996, and less than 40 percent of the world’s average level.

The country needs at least 120 million hectares of arable land to feed its 1.3 billion people.

“It’s vital to the national economy and people’s livelihood,” said Yun. “But with concerted efforts from all sides, it’s quite hopeful to keep the acreage above the minimal line.”

The Chinese government has quintupled tax on the use of arable land for non-farming purposes and is charging foreign-invested companies as much as their domestic peers to protect farm land and better control land supply.

The country’s landmark property law, adopted last March, was also aimed at better protecting farmers from land seizures, which frequently caused public anger. The law stresses the protection of arable land, promising strict restrictions in the transformation of land from agricultural use to construction projects.