Development & Sustainability in China

China’s agricultural reforms and the reversal of urban migration

Back to the Future

Thirty years ago, China was primarily known as a farming society with its population spread out across a vast country of more than 3.5 million square miles. Today, booming manufacturing and industrial centers along with pro-urban government policies have become a magnet for an unprecedented rural to urban population migration to swell coastal municipalities like Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenyang.

China now has over 200 million more urban dwellers than it did a decade ago, and that number is expected to rise another 800 million by 2030. Its land mass is similar to the United States but China’s population of 1.3 billion quadruples America’s. What was once considered a sign of rising middle class prosperity, China’s flourishing urban centers are experiencing significant pressure regarding sustainable infrastructure, housing, energy, food supply and land use policies.

With rural workers flocking to the cities to seek employment, China’s agricultural sector is facing a crisis. A decreasing rural workforce and limited arable land (only 14 percent) has led to a renewed focus on policies and programs that will reverse the urban migration flow and get people farming again.

The Long-Awaited Reform
To tackle a decreasing rural workforce, the country aims to set up more large-scale family farms in order to further commercialize the agricultural sector. To do so, the government is attempting to incentivize people back to the countryside with better work opportunities and financial stability.

According to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)1 2014 work report, “Problems hindering steady agricultural development are prominent. Resource and environmental constraints have tightened; infrastructure for irrigation and water conservancy is still weak…and agricultural production is not profitable.”

However, with construction of new roads, transport and telecoms infrastructure, and an increase in the number of rural supermarkets, improvements in the agricultural sector are within reach. Further, the government is looking at a series of subsidies and investment opportunities for its rural infrastructure. New financial packages have been put in place to boost China’s rural growth in hopes that Chinese banking services will become more accessible to farms and rural companies. These reforms will help promote overall investment in agriculture and drive rural developments, further ensuring food security in the coming years.

Food security remains at the top of the list of world challenges due to booming urbanization and environmental changes across the globe. Reforms such as China’s urban reversal program can only be viewed as a positive step towards a stable and sustainable future for the country’s population.