- China’s Agricultural Development: Challenges and Prospects
If previously the development of China’s agricultural sector was of limited interest to scholars working on topics distant from the farm, awareness of the recent penetration of China’s farm exports abroad, agricultural environmental issues, and the increasing role that China plays in global agricultural markets via WTO membership has finally gotten our attention. For those wishing to explore the complex issues facing China’s farm sector and the role that agriculture is now playing in the larger economy and society, this edited volume offers an excellent summary. While the majority of the authors are agricultural economists, the insights provided in the collection are relevant to social scientists of all tribes. This book certainly deserves attention from a broader audience. The Chinese Economy Series has consistently set a high standard of scholarship, and this volume has certainly maintained this tradition. Somewhat artificially, the fifteen chapters in the book are organized into three sections: “Overview of Challenges and Options,” “The Performance and Potentials of China’s Agriculture,” and “Agricultural Risk Management.” More importantly, almost all of the studies included in the volume are data-rich, quantitative in character, and equipped with well-crafted introductions. These introductions, and the very clear first chapter written by the editors, place each study in context and emphasize the larger issues implicit in the research including (but not limited to) food security, the need for rural insurance, implications of land conflicts, farm scale issues, income stagnation (especially in grain-dependent areas), poverty reduction, rural development, and global trade. From this reviewer’s perspective, these are exactly the issues that should hold our attention. [End Page 84]
Just as issues related to China’s agricultural sector are changing, there has also been a gradual changing of the guard in terms of those who are at the forefront reporting on these issues. The Dong, Song, and Zhang volume includes fourteen generally high-quality studies (of sixteen chapters, including a regional assessment by Robert Fogel and the previously mentioned introduction to the volume by Dong, Song, and Zhang) that taken collectively represent this shift in both leading scholars and scholarship foci.
Perhaps too long below the radar screen, research related to the truly complex issues facing China’s farmers and the important roles they play in Chinese society has come of age. There are certainly large numbers of subsistence farmers still facing harsh conditions, but the interests represented by these cases vie with those of more sophisticated producers of an amazing array of fruits, vegetables, fibers, meat, poultry, and (yes) even capital-intensive grain. Applied research on breeding and production of diverse products including fish, shrimp, crabs, bulbs, corms, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and organic food, as well as improvements in postharvest processing and farm-level efficiency, have transformed and diversified the farm sector and rural China. New issues and problems have emerged in tandem with technical improvements, new marketing and processing channels, and the many other changes wrought by China’s post-WTO economy.
Given the growing complexity of both the agricultural sector and the rural economy as a whole, an edited volume providing diverse views addressing diverse subjects may well be the best format to tackle the topic. A number of the studies appropriately focus on grain issues—past, present, and future (chapter 10 by Shutan Hao, Nico Heerick, Arie Kuyvenhoven, and Futian Qu on rice and scale; chapter 11 by Wencong Lu on grain supply and demand; chapter 12 by James Wen on future grain security; chapter 16 by Wen Du and Holly H. Wang on wheat futures). These are thoughtful and well-done summaries based on empirical analyses. Their inclusion cautions us to remember always that in China, “Pearls and jade are not as precious as the five grains” ( ). Successful policies related to grain production, supply, and farmland protection are the most fundamental charges of China’s agricultural planners; the rest, at least for many years to come, is window...