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2nd Revision


Where did China experience the largest loss of cultivated land?
According to recent statistical data from the State Land Administration, China lost most of its cultivated land in Central and Northern provinces and around booming urban areas in coastal provinces. With over 360 thousand hectares the province of Shaanxi had the largest net-loss of cultivated land between 1988 and 1995. Its size declined by almost 6.4 percent. There were also large net-losses of cultivated land in Inner Mongolia and in Sichuan. The largest relative net-loss of cultivated land was reported from Shanghai, which lost almost 10 percent of its cultivated area. With more than 7 percent Beijing also had a significant net-loss of cultivated land. The overall net-loss of cultivated land between 1988 and 1995 was 1.7 million hectares or only 1.3 percent (see also the detailed tables and charts on Land in the Data section of this application).
According to research conducted by the Institute of Remote Sensing Applications, provinces in Eastern China and in coastal areas had the highest loss of farmland. Especially areas around Tianjing City, in Hebei province, and around Shanghai City and in Guangdong had large losses. Significant losses of farmland were also identified in the provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian, Shandong, Henan, Hunan, Guangxi and Hainan province. Based on remote sensing information the total decrease in farmland between 1985 and the early 1990s was estimated at 5.23 million hectares. This would be equivalent to a decline of over 25 percent (Institute of Remote Sensing Applications, CAS).
These discrepancies are partly due to the differences in classification. While the State Land Administration reports changes in cultivated land - which do not include horticulture, the remote sensing information is on farmland (which probably includes horticulture land). However, these discrepancies also indicate, that land-use monitoring in China still includes a high level of uncertainty.
In evaluating the various sources of information, we can conclude that China has probably experienced only a small net-loss of cropland in major agricultural areas (Sichuan and Shaanxi). Part of this loss was due to agricultural restructuring, when cropland was transformed into horticulture land, orchards or fishponds. There was also loss of farmland around urban agglomerates in coastal areas. While these losses of between 10 and 25 percent where certainly significant in relative terms, they were not particularly significant in absolute terms - as compared to the much larger areas lost in central and northern China.
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Revision 2.0 (First revision published in 1999)  - Copyright 2011 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. (First revision: Copyright 1999 by IIASA.)