§ Mr. Whittingdale
To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the loss of farming land in China over the last 10 years. 
Mr. Gareth Thomas
The majority of the 140 million remaining rural poor in China live in environmentally fragile and remote areas and are heavily dependent on agriculture and related activities for their livelihoods. The Department for International Development (DFID) has, and is working to develop, a number of activities in China which seek to address aspects of rural poverty, including those related to agriculture.92W
Official statistics from the Ministry of Land and Resources in China indicate that current available arable land area is 123 million ha, or 12.8 per cent. of the total. The area of land for grain production is reported to have declined from 98 to 76 million ha from 1998 to 2003. DFID does not have equivalent figures for total arable land.
DFID currently provides financial support to a high-level policy body established by the State Council—the China Council for International Co-operation on Environment and Development. It currently has a task force that is looking specifically at agriculture and rural development, including evaluating the change in agricultural land availability. Their results will contribute to monitoring recent trends in land loss and developing approaches to address it. Recent reports from this group indicate that there have been periods of rapid reduction in the available area of land for agriculture over the past 20 years but that there are regional differences. The rate of loss per capita has increased from 0.6 per cent. in 1998 to 2.8 per cent. in 2003. Many academics believe that the overall loss is less than that reported in official statistics. The losses are thought to have resulted mainly from the growth of urban areas and construction, and the conversion of land to forests.