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Agrarian change, agricultural modernization and the modelling of agricultural households in Tibet


  • Brown, Colin
  • Waldron, Scott


Powerful forces of agrarian change are at work in western China while the government has stepped up efforts to “modernize” agriculture. Major components of the modernization process are to disseminate improved crop and livestock breeds and adjust changing agricultural structures including a shift from staple food crops to more specialized crop-livestock systems. This paper explores the changing role of agriculture and the impacts of new agricultural structures on household livelihoods through a detailed model of farm households. The model aids understanding of the complex dynamics and choices faced by farm households that consume much of their own food production but who are under great pressure to specialize and engage in more commercial activities both on- and off-farm. The model draws on detailed information and case studies in Tibet, a region that reflects the marginal productivity, ethnic diversity, rudimentary market systems and development challenges of much of western China. The model results demonstrate that even in the context of agrarian change, agriculture continues to play a significant role in the livelihoods of these Tibetan farm households. They also highlight how mooted specialization paths, despite significantly increasing household returns, fundamentally change the nature of these farm and household systems and risks faced by these households. The detailed modelling enables identification of tight labour constraints, feed gaps and other changes to farm and household systems brought about by the specialization. Such information is crucial in guiding refinements to marketing systems and institutional and policy settings needed to strengthen and smooth out the process of agrarian transition in western China.

Suggested Citation

  • Brown, Colin & Waldron, Scott, 2013. "Agrarian change, agricultural modernization and the modelling of agricultural households in Tibet," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 83-94.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:agisys:v:115:y:2013:i:c:p:83-94
    DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2012.09.008

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Colin Brown & Scott Waldron & John Longworth, 2011. "Specialty products, rural livelihoods and agricultural marketing reforms in China," China Agricultural Economic Review, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 3(2), pages 224-244, May.
    2. Tittonell, P. & van Wijk, M.T. & Herrero, M. & Rufino, M.C. & de Ridder, N. & Giller, K.E., 2009. "Beyond resource constraints - Exploring the biophysical feasibility of options for the intensification of smallholder crop-livestock systems in Vihiga district, Kenya," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 101(1-2), pages 1-19, June.
    3. Lu, C. H. & van Ittersum, M. K. & Rabbinge, R., 2004. "A scenario exploration of strategic land use options for the Loess Plateau in northern China," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 145-170, February.
    4. Lisson, Shaun & MacLeod, Neil & McDonald, Cam & Corfield, Jeff & Pengelly, Bruce & Wirajaswadi, Lalu & Rahman, Rahmat & Bahar, Syamsu & Padjung, Rusnadi & Razak, Nasruddin & Puspadi, Ketut & Dahlanudd, 2010. "A participatory, farming systems approach to improving Bali cattle production in the smallholder crop-livestock systems of Eastern Indonesia," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 103(7), pages 486-497, September.
    5. Komarek, Adam M. & Waldron, Scott A. & Brown, Colin G., 2012. "An exploration of livestock-development policies in western China," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 12-20.
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    Cited by:

    1. Komarek, Adam M. & Bell, Lindsay W. & Whish, Jeremy P.M. & Robertson, Michael J. & Bellotti, William D., 2015. "Whole-farm economic, risk and resource-use trade-offs associated with integrating forages into crop–livestock systems in western China," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 133(C), pages 63-72.


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