SEATTLE — Sustainable agriculture in China has been developing for almost 40 years. A large country with 1.3 billion people, China feeds 22 percent of the global population with just 7 percent of the world’s arable land. In the 21st century, sustainable agriculture in China demands new technology to meet challenges in social, environmental and economic aspects.
Due to the huge population, the average resource use per capita for agriculture is a fraction of the global average. Severe loss of water and land occurs in some regions, and natural disasters such as drought, flooding, hail and earthquakes used to cause major losses of crops and products. Resource shortages, population increases and urbanization create major challenges to developing sustainable agriculture in China.
In specific domains of agriculture, a series of current issues have become prominent in recent years. The overuse and exploitation of agricultural resources have impacted the availability of many of these resources, such as groundwater.
A few successful responses have been developed. Farmers in Sichuan advocated no-tillage crops with the benefits of saving costs and labor, and this is proliferating along the Yellow River delta. Slope citrus plantations have been trialed for soil and water conservation in Jiangxi province and a few other regions along the Yangtze River. The merits of this technology include retaining soil fertility and preventing the erosion of soil.
The China-U.K. Sustainable Agriculture Innovation Network was established in 2011, which aims to provide a coherent framework for developing and implementing environmentally sustainable agriculture with joint efforts from two nations.
The Integrated Modern Agriculture Development Project is another example of the progress of sustainable agriculture in China. This six-year project involves experiments in selected areas of southwest and northwest China at a total cost of $313.14 million. The Asian Development Bank proposed the Dryland Sustainable Agriculture Project in 2015, which improves farm practices by introducing high-value crops and other advanced technologies for farming and livestock management.
The 13th five-year plan of China includes measures to promote sustainable agriculture in two broad ways. The government will continue to invest in research and development with a view to increasing agricultural productivity, and will also facilitate the creation of more arable land.
There are also specific goals for the implementation of water-saving irrigation and rain-fed agriculture, and by 2020, there is a goal of zero growth in the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. By 2030, the total comprehensive utilization of waste will be realized.
In addition to the full utilization of crop straw, almost all agricultural plastic film and pesticide packaging waste are recycled. The ultimate goal is the prevention of farmland pollution, the management of aquaculture pollution and the improvement of rural environments.
The final goal is restoring agricultural ecology and enhancing ecological functions in China. By 2020, the forest coverage rate should reach more than 23 percent, and comprehensive vegetation coverage of grasslands should reach 56 percent.
Due to the coexistence of challenges and opportunities, sustainable agriculture in China offers a wide platform for solving current problems and achieving future goals related to economic, environmental and societal progress.
– Xin Gao