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China's new breakthrough: agriculture

By Zegang Ren - posted Thursday, 29 March 2018

Reform was initiated in China's agricultural sector 40 years ago with the introduction of the family production responsibility system. This led to the division of collective-owned farming land, and its allocation to every rural family through a long lease contract-30 years (renewable).

Peasants can decide what to grow in their leased land, or even release it to others for a rental profit. Such freedom is a key contributing factor to China's rapid economic expansion because it frees hundreds of millions of peasants from agriculture to work in export-orientated processing industries.

However, 40 years on Chinese agriculture faces a set of different problems. Primarily, the Chinese rural sector suffers from a widespread decline due to the lack of an energetic working population.


A report by National Economic Data Centre, Tsinghua University released in 2017 stated that 21.6% of migrant families had left the countryside and bought houses in towns and cities. In their lifetimes, and in the foreseeable future, up to 80% of the young children of rural residents would relocate to cities and towns. The report commented that, if this trend continues, the Chinese rural sector would experience a dramatic reduction in population within 15-20 years.

Desertification of houses and farming lands, rundown public sanitation and widespread pollution are a common scenario in Chinese rural communities. A report by Liu Yanwu published in China Youth Daily in 2008 revealed that the suicide rate of elderly people in rural areas has risen sharply since 1990 and remains at an alarming level due to sickness, lack of basic care and poverty.

On the other hand, maintaining employment for migrant workers in their millions in the cities has increasingly become an acute problem due to the sharp rise of labour and environmental costs in China's coastal regions.

China could continue with the existing approach of pooling resources into major cities, in anticipation that the flourishing of service industries in mega-cities would gradually absorb the unemployed labour force. But critics say that with this choice, in addition to widening the gap between the urban and rural sector, China is likely to encounter the same problems troubling mega-cities in other countries such as New Deli, Mexico City, San Paulo and, to a lesser extent, New York. These are modern and affluent communities on the one hand, but slums, congestion and crime on the other.

Chen Xiouwen, one of the top level government officials overseeing agriculture has said, in an official TV program, that even if China's urbanisation rate climbs to 70% by 2030, there will be still 450-500 million people living in the rural sector. It will be impossible to secure national stability if such a large rural population lives in a poor and polluted environment.

This is the reason that revitalization of China's rural sector has been set out as a key national strategy in the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist party.


To a great extent, such an aspiration is feasible thanks to China's efforts in two areas:

First, the rapid upgrade of infrastructure. The expansion of coal-fired power stations and the establishment of solar, wind, hydraulic and nuclear facilities has made a power supply readily available in most rural communities.

Transportation systems including high-speed rail, railway and highway networks have made China's inland provinces closer to the advanced coastal regions and the new trade routes to Central Asia, Europe, the Southeast and south Asia.

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About the Author

Ren Zegang is an immigrant to Australia from China and the editor of

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