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Environmental challenges caused by pesticide overuse and untreated sewage remain a major obstacle for China in its modernization of agriculture and rural areas by 2050, according to a report released on July 25.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences" Rural Development Report 2018 focuses on agricultural development and the living conditions of residents in rural areas.
Wei Houkai, director of the CASS Rural Development Institute, said environmental issues - including soil acidification - have degraded rural areas in recent years. Major problems have included the overuse of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and improper disposal of poultry excrement.
The amount of chemical fertilizer used per hectare in China was 359 kilograms in 2016, the report said. That"s 2.6 times the level in the United States, and 2.5 times the world average.
"The use of fertilizers and pesticides should be in line with the world standard if we want to realize comprehensive modernization," Wei said. "There is still a long way to go."
Many countries recognize 225 kilograms per hectare as the upper acceptable limit for fertilizer.
China has intensified efforts to fight overuse of artificial fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture in recent years, and their use has declined since 2016, Liao Xiyuan, the chief for science, technology and education at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said at a news conference on Thursday. Meanwhile, efficiency in the use of pesticides and fertilizers for major crops such as rice and wheat increased last year, which means less waste and environmental pollution, he said.
The ministry will focus on other crops that require large amounts of fertilizer, such as fruits, vegetables and tea, to encourage the use of organic substitutes, Liao said.
Poor sanitary conditions also need to be tackled in the process of modernizing rural areas, the report said.
The latest agricultural census carried out in 2016 found that nearly 50 percent of rural households use traditional communal pit latrines without any form of flushing, and more than 80 percent of villages don"t have proper sewage treatment.
Progress has been made in sewage disposal, as the number of villages with treatment facilities has increased from 6 percent in 2010 to 20 percent in 2016, and households with toilets and modern sanitation facilities reached 80.3 percent in 2016, up 13 percent from 2010, the report said.
However, it is still a pressing challenge to improve sanitary conditions in rural counties, Wei said. In urban areas, the disposal rate is about 5 percent higher.
"It"s a problem tied to the imbalance of financial support for rural areas and agricultural development, which lags in infrastructure construction," Wei said.
More capital should be channeled to rural areas to help improve sanitary conditions such as sewage disposal, the report said.
Laws and regulations focused on environmental protection should also be enhanced to limit the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, it said, adding that this would help solve environmental problems in these areas.