Tag Archives: agriculture

The future of Chinese peasants

A recent paper published by the International Institute for Environment and Development has studied the adaption of small-scale famers to China’s expansion1 This in-depth research is illustrated by numerous maps and tables to better understand the challenges Chinese small farmers are facing. 

For the authors, China’s agriculture has benefited from the economic development China has experienced for the last thirty years. Chinese agriculture has increased its productivity, the quality of products has increased and production has got more diversified. Thanks to the reforms and the decollectivisation Chinese small scale famers’ revenues have increased. In spite of this well-adaption to the market economy, China’s agriculture still faces several issues.

This paper has identified several challenges authorities need to address regarding Chinese small-scale famers.  

  • Chinese small scale famers need to increase the size of their farm in order to gain higher profits and be able to answer wholesale markets demand. For the author, this would also improve food safety, a rising issue in China.
  • Their research also shows that farmers are getting older, the young generation, and especially male workers are likely to work off the farm. They noticed the growing role of female farmers.

The authors advocate for more reforms to be carried out in order to solve these issues.

Firstly, more reforms in the sector of land-rental need to be carried out, to help farm size getting larger.

Secondly, the government should offer more assistance to small scale famers through the “farmer professional cooperatives” (FPC), these ones need to pay more attention to the ageing and feminization of farm workers.

Thirdly, more efforts must be made to encourage the professionalization of farmers. This sector needs to become more attractive for young rural workers. With possible higher profits, young peasants would not all migrate to cities. As rural populations’ level of education is increasing, more technologies must be included in farming. This would help young male famers to stay in their farm lands and this would also lead to higher specialization and competitiveness of China’s agriculture. 

  1. Huang, J , Wang, X, Qui, H (2012) Small-scale farmers in China in the face of modernization and globalisation, IIED/HIVOS, London, The Hague. http://pubs.iied.org/pdfs/16515IIED.pdf. Retrieved July 15, 2013. []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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Water shortage and water prices

Canal near Shaoxing, China, Goulard Sébastien


As the population in China becomes more urbanised, water consumption is increasing. Because the country is prospering, more water is needed for agriculture, industrial use and urban dwellers’ daily consumption.

The Chinese still do not consume as much water as Americans; nevertheless, it is time for China to create incentives to significantly reduce water consumption.

In a recent conference paper1, Zhao, Guo and Marinova argued that increasing water prices may not be the solution for this problem.

The paper looks at the case of Tianjin, where water is very scarce. To solve this problem, local authorities have sought larger water supplies, over-pumping ground water and seeking to exchange water rights with neighbouring provinces. The authors feel that local authorities should take the opposite stance and aim to decrease the demand for water:

Increasing the water supply is not the answer to Tianjin’s water shortage.”

Of course, local government could decide to raise the price of water in order to encourage residents to consume less. This option has already been implemented in the past, but produced poor results in the long term. It is a policy that could be regarded as unfair, since the poorest households suffer the most from higher water prices. Moreover, irrational water prices could threaten the economic development of the city. Higher prices would be a threat to many local firms, which would become less competitive.

 The authors believe that local authorities should seek to fix a fair price that would satisfy consumers’ needs, economic development and ecological capacities. According to this paper, water prices need to rise progressively. However, according to the authors, “price” is not just about attaining a sustainable level of water consumption. China needs to adopt a sober economic development model, limit urbanisation, develop a more transparent water management system and educate people about water shortages.

Issues related to water consumption are not unique to China. Europe – especially southern Europe – is also suffering from water shortages. In the case of Europe, water shortage is not due primarily to human consumption and urbanisation, but is the result of intensive agriculture and the development of golf courses (in Spain). Unfortunately, Europe can hardly provide a single solution for China regarding water saving policies. In France, agriculture accounts for 70% of water consumption; this results in water pollution caused by pesticides. However, water management is mainly financed by household consumers, not agriculture, in order to maintain the competitiveness of French agriculture. There are, nevertheless, some initiatives to preserve water resources. For example, at the European level, the common agricultural policy’s new scheme encourages better management of water resources.

In the case of China, what can the government do to reduce its water consumption and maintain an equilibrium between human, industrial and ecological needs?

I, personally, believe it is unrealistic to restrain urbanisation, slow down development, and ask Chinese urban dwellers to reduce their water consumption. However, more attention should be focused on decreasing water pollution and preserving water resources. Although urbanisation cannot be stopped, the problem of water consumption should be better incorporated into urban planning and larger investments should be made in infrastructures for reusing water.  More importantly, management of water resources must be more transparent, as Yi, Jiao and Chen pointed out in their paper published in July 20112.

Generally speaking, environmental issues should be at the heart of every developmental policy, from agriculture to industry.

  1. Zhao, B., X. Guo, and D. Marinova (2011). “To pay more or use less: China’s urban water pricing regime and water awareness.” In The 19th International Congress on Modelling and Simulation (MODSIM2011), Dec 12, 2011, Perth, WA: The Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand Inc []
  2. Yi L, Jiao W, Chen X N, Chen W (2011). An overview of reclaimed water reuse in China. Journal of Environmental. Sciences, 23(10), pp. 1585–1593 []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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