- Rural Development in China: Insights from the Beef Industry
While China's quarter century of economic reform has allowed for the creation of vast wealth and transformed the nation, it is certain that gaps between rich and poor, urban and rural, and east and west are growing apace with China's fortunes. These inequalities are the basis for diverse social, political, and economic tensions. They also constitute major "push" and "pull" factors associated with China's "floating population" emanating from rural areas and estimated to be in excess of one hundred million persons. Planners and researchers all recognize that steps must be taken to improve parity and the economic alternatives available to rural China—if for no other reason than to encourage more folks to stay "down on the farm." Exactly what actions should be taken and, as importantly, exactly what level of government should promulgate and manage these "reformed" reform programs are issues at the core of the nation's contemporary economic-development debate. They serve as the central themes of this volume as well.
A productive and efficient farm sector is vital for China's long-term economic security and social stability. With proper planning, an increasingly sophisticated and commercialized farm sector including husbandry will come to play a greater role in the economy of rural China. Revitalization will continue to provide not only employment but also reasonable incomes, stabilizing many rural areas. Waldron, Brown, and Longworth recognize this potential and argue that the pervasive influence of the State in agriculture makes the sector ideal for short-to medium-term economic-development policies initiated and directed by institutional policy—not by the marketplace.
As China's political system grows increasingly decentralized, provincial and local officials have taken a more important role in the economic planning of the farm sector. Many scholars believe that the direct role of the central government in economic planning often diminishes in direct relation to the increased autonomy of local agencies. The authors argue that this is not the case in the beef industry, and that the industry—if properly managed and supported by state-led initiatives—has tremendous potential for expansion, despite current stagnant prices due to an over-reliance on low-value output.
In Rural Development in China, Waldron, Brown, and Longworth provide a very detailed case study of the beef industry that explores how institutional and policy reforms impact this industry and, more broadly, rural development. The fourteen chapters that make up the book reflect the diverse agents, policies, and [End Page 186] institutions associated with the production, processing, and distribution of beef in China starting from the beginning of the reform era. Treating the beef industry as a case study of sectoral and regional economic planning and development, the authors argue that success in this sector has been contingent on consistency in institutional policy and strong support at all levels of government from the national to the local. In addition to discussions about the types of programs needed to promote a sustainable beef industry in China, there is also a great deal of Hamilton-versus-Jefferson imbedded in the book. The authors frequently highlight the importance of effective vertical interactions across government agencies and state and private producers. Consensus on which agencies and jurisdictions should initiate and manage rural development programs is as important as deciding what new programs, policies, and regulations should be introduced.
There are numerous instances cited in the book where amiable interactions are presently lacking for the beef industry (horizontal linkages among competing producers, for example). However, the authors' overriding position is that it is the "convergence of interests between upper and lower administrative levels that helps explain the massive support mobilized toward the industry at all levels" (p. 127) and its subsequent success. There is much to consider here, and the authors' optimism regarding the important role of the Ministry of Agriculture is a refreshing turn.
While many may dispute the importance accorded...