There are many challenging numbers confronting China's new leaders, but two are especially stark. China has 20 per cent of the world's population, but only nine per cent of the world's farmland. And even that imbalance in the amount of land available to produce food for an increasingly demanding population of 1.3 billion is getting worse by the day. China loses close to a million hectares of arable land a year to urban development. Between 1996 and 2006 nine million hectares of farmland were eaten up by China's expanding cities. Providing food security for the country's people is seen by the Chinese Communist Party as one of its sacred duties, especially after up to 45 million people died of starvation in the late 1950s as a result of regime founder Mao Zedong's criminally ill-conceived Great Leap Forward.