China’s Unsustainable Agriculture

Published on Author santangeloz17

Since the introduction of artificial fertilizers and pesticides in the 1980’s, China’s farming has caused animal and plant ecosystems around China to decline, some beyond repair. Although agriculture productivity is at an all time high, it has come with a huge environmental impact. Lakes are being plagued by dense algae, killing the valuable fish that thrive in these lakes.

As China’s ecosystems are harmed, China’s demand for agriculture has surpassed its supply. In 2012, China imported more than 60% of the world’s soybeans to feed the growing demand for livestock consumption. As China’s demand continues to outpace supply, food prices around the world will increase rapidly, hurting consumers around the world. [The Prof: the poorest of the poor globally live in rural areas, we suffer from an urban and an OECE bias in which food production is irrelevant to most of the population.]

National policy must aim to educate farmers to apply fertilizer and pesticides in correct quantities and the right time of year, dispose human and cattle sewage properly, reduce the chemicals getting into streams and rivers, and control fish feed. These policies are difficult for China to implement because Chinese farmers are general poor, badly educated and aging. The Chinese government has been drawing the younger and more educated workers away from farms and into big cities.

To address this issue, China must create a program to disseminate information from government agencies to local farmers more effectively. Educational programs for farmers will allow Chinese agriculture to become more sustainable.

Source: Dearing, John. “China Farming Boom Has Left Ecosystems in Danger of Total Collapse.” The Conversation, 26 Feb. 2015.

5 Responses to China’s Unsustainable Agriculture

  1. I agree that sustainability is an important issue and should be carried out in China’s agricultural practice. However, to achieve sustainability in China, I believe there should be more powerful economic incentives for farmers to act on environmentally-friendly procedures such as correct quantities of fertilizer and disposal of sewage system. It is true that dissemination of appropriate education is necessary considering general educational level of Chinese farmers. But I have learned that the driving force of China’s economic growth has been people’s strong will to earn larger productivity and wealth. Therefore, I think government should not only implement educational programs to encourage sustainable agriculture but also devise policies to supervise and subsidize farmers to actively engage in these practices.

  2. I also think that the driving factor behind overusing fertilizer is productivity and wealth, which are immediate benefits that would harm the long-term goal of sustainability. Even those with enough knowledge of appropriate fertilizer may still overuse it because that would result in higher productivity and better-looking product. Some people grow vegetables solely to sell to others; they do not dare to use their own products as they know how toxic their vegetables are.

  3. We have frequently discussed the ongoing migration of China’s youth from rural to urban settings. Certainly the decline in agricultural laborers, especially the more productive, young workers, has had an effect on the disparity between supply and demand and thus on the need to import agricultural products.

  4. I agree with the comments above. Economic incentives are necessary to improve the productivity and sustainability of the agriculture system in China. A possible solution could be a combination of education and a taxing system on environmental externalities. If you limited the amount of pollution per acre and taxed any amount higher, then only those willing to pay would pollute, therefore internalizing the externality in a way.

  5. As anyone in our Environmental Studies courses knows, the Chesapeake Bay is under stress. (Ditto Lake Erie after a three decades of improvement.) Only in the past decade or so have dairy farmers been pressed to clean up their shit … I can arrange a tour of the dairy farm just north of US 11 for anyone who wants to know the details. Here China won’t have to reinvent the wheel (though they will still have to invest in appropriate localization of methods and associated agricultural extension services), and should improve faster than we have.

    As to the global aspects, China’s population is not expanding and incomes are high enough that the pace of dietary change is slowing. Demand won’t rise much more, while land productivity will continue to rise. However desertification, water pollution and urbanization all lessen effective arable area, and as Moody notes the rural labor force is shrinking. The two effects offset each other. So the best projection is that on net we will see only modest additional Chinese imports. (I mentioned this earlier in the term, see the Fukase and Martin paper linked on the class schedule.)