China released its first national census on pollution on Tuesday, revealing that the amount of waste deposited into the country’s water supply amounted to 30.3 million metric tons in 2007. This figure is more than double the 13.8 million tons initially reported as a 6% decline from 2006 levels. The survey also revealed that agricultural waste contributes 43.7% of the country’s chemical oxygen demand, the main measure of water pollution.
The upward revision in figures is a result of more accurate measurements of ammonia and other agricultural chemicals in China’s wastewater runoff. The survey measured 1.1 billion data points and took over two years to complete.
China faces the challenge of feeding 22% of the world’s population using only 7% of the world’s land, but inefficient and abusive utilization of pesticides and fertilizers accounts for 67% and 57% of the country’s phosphorus and nitrogen pollution respectively. After initially attempting to delay the survey, Ministry of Agriculture officials promised to introduce policies that would improve efficiency and reduce pollution.
Previously, government efforts to reduce pollution have focused on industrial waste, but increasing oversight of China’s dispersed agricultural sector will prove significantly more complicated. Limiting measurable quantities like factory emissions is much easier than measuring, much less regulating, the amount of fertilizer or pesticides used across millions of farms. Government subsidies may drive an interest in more organic or effective fertilizer utilization, but this will involve reversing China’s long-standing “more is better” approach.