Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged authorities to implement the strictest rules on farmland protection.
"Arable land is the country's most valuable asset... we should protect it the way we protect pandas," Xi instructed.
He demanded more effective measures to regulate the "land for land" scheme, which requires local governments to prepare the same amount of arable land before existing farmland is appropriated for non-farming purposes, according to a statement published on the government website.
While acknowledging the importance of land transfers, Xi asked local authorities to take a step-by-step approach in the process.
To allow farmers to enjoy urbanization they will be given greater property rights, including the freedom to possess, use, benefit from and transfer their contracted land.
Special attention should be given to problems such as land being used for non-farming purposes after transfer, Xi warned.
Premier Li Keqiang also instructed authorities to improve land use efficiency.
China's arable land stood at 2 billion mu (about 135.1 million hectares) at the end of 2012, 227 million mu above the "bottom line" set by the government to ensure food security.