Environmental Policy and Agriculture in China

From regulation through model emulation to regulatory pluralism

Authored by: Bettina Bluemling

Routledge Handbook of Environmental Policy in China

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  April  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138831117
eBook ISBN: 9781315736761
Adobe ISBN:


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Agricultural intensification has been a political programme for decades in China (Marks 2012). Also today, despite a growing population and rising living standards, the Chinese government is convinced that the country's agriculture can maintain a self-sufficient supply in main food crops (Xinhua 2015). Even if in China, 22 per cent of the world population live on only 7 per cent of the world's arable land, in 2010, the country's farmers produced about 95 per cent of the staples consumed (McBeath and McBeath 2010). Agricultural intensification, however, is not only driven by policy, it is also a result of two other major drivers. First, agricultural intensification is a response to changing diets. Figure 9.1 shows the production of the three major crops in China over the period from 2001 to 2011: while paddy rice increased by 13.2 per cent, vegetable production increased by 23.7 per cent and maize production even by 68.9 per cent. This increase in maize production can to some extent be attributed to a rise in meat consumption. Pig production increased by 113.4 per cent over the period from 1989 to 2009 (Bluemling and Hu 2011). From 1990 to 2000, meat consumption almost doubled in China (Kanaly et al. 2010). Diets in China have not only increasingly incorporated meat but also fruits and vegetables. Areas under vegetables and fruits have been expanding annually and now make 22.3 per cent of the total cultivated area (Fan et al. 2015). This increase in area under vegetable and fruit cultivation will put further pressure on the remaining land for grain production. Adding to this, a further driver for agricultural intensification is the decrease in arable land. According to Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) data, arable land decreased from 0.105 ha/person in 1983 to 0.078 ha/person in 2013, a reduction of 74 per cent (World Bank 2016a), which can be partly attributed to a population increase from 1.01 billion in 1982 to 1.41 billion in 2015 (FAO 2016) and related soaring urbanization and transfer of agricultural land. In conclusion, increased meat consumption, intensification of grain production and a shift to more pesticide and fertilizer intensive cultivations like vegetable and fruit are likely to have their impact on China's rural environment.

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