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OnderzoekCentre for East Asian Studies Groningen

Guest Lecture: Smallholder Farming Practices and their Impact on Environment in Rural China, by Prof. Zuo

Wanneer:wo 04-02-2015
Waar:1313 - 0338 Harmonie Building

Smallholder Farming Practices and their Impact on Environment in Rural China

by: Zuo Ting, Professor, College of Humanities and Development Studies, China Agricultural University

Dominant agricultural farms are still operated by peasant householders under the collective ownership. In average, a smallholder farm has 3.9 affiliated family population, 2.8 laborers (including 2 half-laborers). Such farm has about 9 mu (or 0.6 hectare) cultivated land, half of which can be irrigated. In terms of income sources, roughly, 50% of the income comes from farm products, 30% from labor wage, 10% from non-farm business, and 10% from transfer and assets.

The practices of smallholder farming are more harmonizing with their embedded agro-ecosystem. However it is now facing more environmental constraints and challenges in the process of agricultural modernization.

Traditional smallholder farming was labor intensive with a lot of crop and land cares from peasant families, e.g. agroforestry, intercropping, organic farming, multi-purpose farming, etc.. Due to various reasons, labor inputs were substituted by chemical inputs. Different from Mao’s agriculture expansion strategies in 1950-1970, to cope with the decrease of arable land, intensification (in both landscape scale and micro-scale) become a policy preference, e.g. the identification of Main Grain Production Area, Concentrated Livestock Plots and the subsidized greenhouse technology. Overuse of land resulted in both visible change of underground water and surface water pollution and invisible change of land degradation. Agricultural specialization, mono-plantation and scale enlargement, which seems an inevitable choice for many local decision-makers and smallholders to meet the market competition, has caused agroecosystem degradation (e.g.soil erosion, loss of agro-biodiversity, loss of indigenous species, etc.).

Although China’s smallholder farming system is famous for its endurance and resilience, those related environmental issues must be addressed. The overall agriculture policy should be set on the safety of agro-ecosystem. Policy priorities and preferences should be reviewed and be more supportive to smallholder farms.