BEIJING -- After years of excessive use of growth enhancers to increase crop yields, the Chinese government has decided to limit the amount of fertilizers and pesticides used in the nation's farmlands.
In a press conference held on the sidelines of the National People's Congress Friday, Vice Minister of Agriculture Yu Xinrong told reporters that China will begin a "zero-growth" period for total fertilizer and pesticide use that lasts until 2020.
"On the one hand we have achieved 11 consecutive years of bumper harvests, but on the other hand we have excessively burdened our water and land resources," Yu said. "Already, the pressure on the land has surpassed the limit."
Fertilizers composed of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium do wonders to enhance the growth of agricultural crops, but overuse has its consequences. When washed away into rivers, lakes and oceans, nitrogen can trigger unnatural growth of algae, which can deplete oxygen and kill fish. Regular use of acidulated fertilizers can result in toxic acidity levels in the soil.
"We are setting the goal for total annual food production at 550 million tons, which would give us enough room to adjust to these new measures," Yu said. That figure is 9% lower than what was actually produced last year. His comments seemed to hint that China is prepared to accept an end to the consecutive years of bumper harvests that have been proudly announced each autumn.
The pressure to grow more crops stems from increased meat consumption. Pork production has almost doubled in the past 20 years. To feed the livestock, China has been expanding corn fields and using fertilizers and pesticides to counter the many natural disasters it faces, such as droughts and excessive rainfall.