Back in 1984, Vaclav Smil warned of China's environmental troubles (much of which then "secret"; and most of which promptly denied, later acknowledged) in book titled The Bad Earth.
How apt the title now seems, given report in the Guardian that includes:
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.
Zhou Jianmin, director of the China Soil Association, estimated that one-tenth of China's farmland was affected. "The country, the government and the public should realise how serious the soil pollution is," he said. "More areas are being affected, the degree of contamination is intensifying and the range of toxins is increasing."
Other estimates of soil pollution range as high as 40%, but an official risk assessment is unlikely to be made public for several years.
Unlike in Europe where persistent organic pollutants are the main concern, Chen said 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.
Calls for a clean-up of the land are slowly gaining prominence. Huang Hongxiang, a researcher from the Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional Planning, warned earlier this year that China needed to widen its focus from production volumes.
"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."