An Analysis of China's Fertilizer Policies: Impacts on the Industry, Food Security, and the Environment

Y.X. Li, W.F. Zhang, L. Ma, G.Q. Huang, O. Oenema, F.S. Zhang, Z.X. Dou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

149 Citations (Scopus)


China has made remarkable strides in recent decades to grow enough food to feed 20% of the world's population with only 9% of the world's arable land. Meanwhile, the nation is experiencing exacerbated air and water pollution problems. Agricultural growth and the pollution aggravation are closely linked with policies affecting fertilizer production and use. Essentially nonexistent in 1950, China's fertilizer industry is now a robust conglomerate producing fertilizers in amounts that not only meet domestic demand but also contribute to international trade. The industry's growth stemmed from a series of policy progressions, featuring (i) a total control system with state ownership and central planning (1949-1984), (ii) a dual system of central planning and market adjustment (1985-1997), (iii) a market-driven system with government-mandated price caps (1998-2009), and (iv) a complete market-oriented system (since 2009). In conjunction with the policy changes were massive subsidy programs totaling more than $18 billion in 2010. The support policies and subsidies helped grow the industry and safeguard an adequate supply of fertilizers at affordable costs to farmers, but the artificially low-priced fertilizers also contributed to a nationwide trend of fertilizer overuse, leading to nutrient pollution. China needs innovative policies and programs to address food security and sustainability challenges. In this study, we review and analyze policies and programs related to China's fertilizer production and use in a 60-yr span (1950-2010) and discuss its impact on the development of the industry, food security, and pressing environmental issues. Finally, our study analyzes long-term trends in fertilizer use in China and offers some key viewpoints to stimulate debates among all stakeholders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)972-981
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • management
  • productivity
  • agriculture
  • quality


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