Target: China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection
Goal: Disallow chemical factories and mines being built adjacent to farmland
The industrialization of rural land in interior China is contaminating soil at an escalating rate. Chinese agencies estimate as much as 20 percent of arable land in the country is contaminated and unfit for growing crops. Wastewater from battery manufacturing plants and runoff from mining operations have polluted farmland with a slew of toxic chemicals – namely lead, cadmium, and arsenic. While the Chinese government seems genuinely concerned, it has failed to set specific plans to remediate soil and protect land from further contamination.
As industry moves away from population centers and into rural areas, where land is cheaper and regulations fewer, soil that was once fertile and productive becomes unusable. In the town of Dapu, in Hunan province, farmers’ crops ceased to yield after the introduction of an aluminum fluoride plant in 2008. Today the farmers still grow rice, which can’t be sold due to its poor quality, only so they may continue to qualify for compensation from the factory. Nevertheless, income from compensation is typically half of what farmers earned when their crops were healthy and flourishing.
The problem is perhaps felt most acutely in Hunan, China’s “grain basket,” where rice sales recently fell 60 percent following reports that the crop contained excessive cadmium, a potentially harmful heavy metal. Elsewhere, consumers boycott rice grown from the province, threatening to destroy farmers’ livelihood. Yet in a country plagued by a shocking growth of chemical-induced neurological disorders, kidney failure, and cancer in young people, neither consumers nor farmers are to blame.
Protection of land and soil is especially important for a country burdened with feeding 20 percent of the world’s population on only 10 percent of the planet’s arable land. The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection has gone back on its word to publish data from a soil-pollution survey, maintaining that the information is a state secret. The government’s reluctance to release the data raises suspicions that the problem is actually much worse than originally expected. Prohibiting mines and chemical plants from being built next to valuable cropland would go a long way in preventing further pollution.
Dear Ministry of Environmental Protection,
The people of China are afraid to consume their country’s food. Farmers are losing their livelihood and consumers must choose between going hungry and being poisoned by contaminated produce. 20 percent or more of arable land in China is polluted. The problem is caused when noxious fumes from mines and toxic runoff from chemical factories leach into the water and soil of nearby farmland.
Every year, 12 million tons of crops go to waste, having been contaminated by arsenic and heavy metals such as cadmium. Billions of dollars are lost and the number of deaths from cancer for people under 50 continue to rise. Even more than air and water pollution, soil contamination is likely to cause more severe problems in the long-term. Reversing damage to farmland is exceptionally difficult and requires vigorous labor and diligence.
Prevent further contamination of Chinese soil by prohibiting mines from operating on mountains adjacent to farmland. Forbid chemical factories from opening next to arable land and outlaw dumping into the streams and rivers that farmers rely on for irrigation. The most effective method of protecting China’s land, food sources, and human health is prevention. Please act now to avoid dire consequences.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Bert van Dijk via Flickr