Sustainable natural resource use in rural China: Trends and policies

F. Qu, A. Kuyvenhoven, X. Shi, N. Heerink

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperAcademic


In this paper we provide an overview of recent trends in the availability and quality of land and water resources in rural China, and examine the common presumption that rural resources are rapidly degrading in China. Data based on consistent definitions and measurement methods that have recently become available are used to that end. In addition, we analyse the impact of new policy initiatives to introduce market-based instruments and new institutions to address land degradation and water scarcity problems. We find that the decline in cultivated area has accelerated in the beginning of the new century. Ecological recovery programs, not urbanization and industrialization, are the major factor causing this decline. Ecological recovery programs are also a major force behind the increase in forest land area and the reduction of water erosion. Modest successes can be observed in the protection of wetlands and (until the mid-1980s) for the average quality of cultivated land. On the other hand, degradation of natural grassland and wind erosion have become much more severe in recent decades. In northern China, particularly in the 3-H (Hai & Luan, Huai and Huang) river basins, the availability of water has tightened. Groundwater tables have fallen considerably in the Hai river basin, because farmers increasingly rely on groundwater for irrigation. Evidence on other parts of northern China is mixed. Pollution of surface water is getting worse since the beginning of the 1990s in two major lakes in southern China and until recently in the rivers in northern China. Water quality problems in the larger rivers in southern China are less severe and getting less. These problems are to a large extent caused by agriculture-based non-point source pollution, especially in the major lakes and reservoirs. The sloping land conversion program, water pricing, and the establishment of water user associations and payments for environmental services projects are used as cases to examine the introduction of market-based instruments and new institutions. We argue that less government interference in the implementation of these instruments and institutions is likely to enhance ecological as well the economic benefits. Moreover, supportive measures to improve the functioning of land and labor markets are usually needed to ensure the sustainability of the impact of interventions
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2010
EventInternational Symposium on Eco- Economy & Issues of Agriculture, Farmers and Rural Area in 21st Century, Guizhou, China -
Duration: 25 Jun 201027 Jun 2010


ConferenceInternational Symposium on Eco- Economy & Issues of Agriculture, Farmers and Rural Area in 21st Century, Guizhou, China

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