Nowhere is the global push to restore degraded land likely to be more important, complex and expensive than in China, where vast swaths of the soil are contaminated by arsenic and heavy metals from mines and factories.
A tenth of China’s farmland contains “excessive” levels of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium a government study has found. Other estimates of soil pollution range as high as 40%, but as expected, an official risk assessment is unlikely to be made public for several years.
The government has spent six years on a soil survey involving 30,000 people, but the academics leading the project said they have been forbidden from releasing preliminary findings, the Guardian reports.
Unlike in Europe where persistent organic pollutants are the main concern China’s worst soil contamination is from arsenic, which is released during the mining of copper, gold and other minerals. Roughly 70% of the world’s arsenic is found in China – and it is increasingly coming to the surface with horrendous consequences.
The Economic Information Daily reported this month that pollution ruins almost 12 billion kilograms of food production each year, causing economic losses of 20 billion yuan.
Experts say no more than 20% of China’s soil is seriously polluted but the problem was likely to grow because 80% of the pollutants in the air and water end up in the earth.
“If we don’t improve the quality of farmland, but only depend on increasing investment and improving technology, then – regardless of whatever super rice, super wheat and other super quality crops we come up with – it will be difficult to guarantee the sustainable development of our nation’s agriculture,” Huang Hongxiang, a researcher from the Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional Planning, summed up the problem in an interview with the Guardian highlighting the need for China to widen its focus from production volumes.
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