Solar panels on key rice fields

Solar arrays have been illegally installed in Hubei province on farmland important to China’s food security, CCTV (China Central Television) has reported.

The land is designated as “basic farmland”, meaning it is important for food security, and “shall not be occupied for other uses in the long term,” according to regulations on its protection.

Anlu, a prefecture-level city in Hubei, is renowned for its rice production. However, since 2021 some of its basic farmland has been taken over by solar panels, covering hundreds of hectares, CCTV found.

A typical case occurred in Muzi, a township in Anlu. Local farmers told CCTV they were pressured by the village committee to lease their land to a solar company. They reluctantly did so, receiving an annual rent of only CNY 500 (USD 69) per mu (667 square metres). 

Local rice fields normally yield 700-750 kg per mu per year, one farmer said. Last year, the government’s guaranteed minimum rice price was around CNY 2.6 per kg. So the farmer’s income would have been at least CNY 1,820 per mu, over three times the rent.

The contract between the farmers and the company is only legal if the site is not classified as basic farmland. Although a company staff member and a local government official told CCTV it is not, farmers showed their land contracts clearly showing it is.

Since CCTV’s exposure of the illegal occupation, the local government has been investigating the problem, Chengdu Economic Daily reported.

Read China Dialogue’s analysis of the rise of China’s solar panel industry.