Energy and labour use on farms: case studies from the Netherlands and China

Tian Yu

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

As one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emission, agricultural production is responsible for climate change. In the most industrial countries, agricultural production has built a great dependency on fossil energy consumption by replacing most human labour with agro-technologies on the farm. This is unsustainable in the context of climate change and resource depletion. Therefore, in order to mitigate climate change, the transition to sustainable food production is necessary and urgent. Rising in the 1970s, organic agriculture is believed to be a sustainable approach for agricultural production. It has been proved to use less fossil energy due to a commitment not to use any synthetic substances, but at the same time it uses more labour. When labour and fossil energy are regarded as two basic resource inputs on a farm, it seems that organic farms use more labour to compensate for the reduced fossil energy consumption. However, it is still unknown how the input balance of fossil energy and labour on organic farms is different from that on conventional farms, and how the different input balance would influence the sustainability of agricultural production. It is valuable to explore these questions against the backdrop of climate change. As the issue of fossil energy and labour input balance on farms has not been studied thoroughly, this thesis is written based on an exploratory research. The main objective is to explore the balance of fossil energy and labour input at farm level by comparing conventional and organic farming systems, and to explore the possibility to optimise sustainability of resource use in agricultural production.

By conducting comparative case studies in both the Netherlands and China, this thesis first calculated the energy and labour input balance separately in the two countries, and it concluded organic farming uses less energy and more labour compared with conventional farming in both countries, but there is great variation among all the farms in the size and farming activity of this gap. When comparing the results from the two countries, the thesis concluded that Dutch farms use more energy while Chinese farms use more labour due to their different resource endowments. However, the situation is changing in both countries, and the changes show that the so-called industrial agriculture – which consumes much more energy – is not the only nor the best trajectory for agricultural development. Requiring more labour use on farm, how organic farming can deal with the labour constrains is then answered: organic farmers should be encouraged to explore their diverse local solutions to increase the resilience of their farm when dealing with the constraints. In further, using the theory of farming mode and farming style, this thesis discussed farmers’ input strategies by clarifying the heterogeneity within organic farms, and highlighting the trend of conventionalisation in the development of organic agriculture, and it supports the hypothesis that organic agriculture with peasant qualities shows better potential in applying organic principles to optimise the sustainability of an organic farm. At last, the thesis discussed the theoretical concept of organic peasant agriculture, and tries to distinguish it from conventional agriculture and conventionalised organic agriculture. It concludes that organic peasant agriculture is valuable in the transition to sustainable food production.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • van der Ploeg, Jandouwe, Promotor
Award date20 Nov 2019
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789463951333
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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