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Land use change and environmental stress of wheat, rice and corn production in China


  • You, Liangzhi
  • Spoor, Max
  • Ulimwengu, John
  • Zhang, Shemei


Grain self-sufficiency is one of the most important agricultural policy goals in China. With only modest imports, China has succeeded in feeding 22% of the world's population on only 7% of its land. However, a high price has been paid for this enormous achievement. Increase in grain yields, in particular in rice, as the main source of production growth, relied heavily on intensive use of physical inputs and increasing intensity of farming systems. Soil degradation, water scarcity, and severe pollution were among the consequences as well as declining efficiency of fertilizer application. Using county-level panel data from 1980 to 2003 and graphical (GIS-based) analysis, this paper first looks at the spatial change of the major grain production across regions over the past two decades, towards the northern and northeastern provinces. The analysis is complemented by using a random panel data model, which underscores the significant influence of land availability, degree of urbanization, and government policy on grain production. Finally, this analysis addresses environmental stress which includes both soil degradation and water shortage. The latter is already severe in many of the traditional grain producing areas, but will now become a bigger problem in the “new” grain producing areas, as these have traditionally much less water resources. Hence, while the economic rational of the “grain shift” towards the northern and northeastern regions is understandable, its sustainability is not guaranteed.

Suggested Citation

  • You, Liangzhi & Spoor, Max & Ulimwengu, John & Zhang, Shemei, 2011. "Land use change and environmental stress of wheat, rice and corn production in China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(4), pages 461-473.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:chieco:v:22:y:2011:i:4:p:461-473
    DOI: 10.1016/j.chieco.2010.12.001

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Xu, Cheng & Chunru, Han & Taylor, Donald C., 1992. "Sustainable agricultural development in China," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 20(8), pages 1127-1144, August.
    2. Fan, Shenggan & Pardey, Philip G., 1997. "Research, productivity, and output growth in Chinese agriculture," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 115-137, June.
    3. Lin, Justin Yifu, 1992. "Rural Reforms and Agricultural Growth in China," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(1), pages 34-51, March.
    4. Fan, Shenggen & Zhang, Linxiu & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2002. "Growth, inequality, and poverty in rural China: the role of public investments," Research reports 125, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    5. Derek Headey & Shenggen Fan, 2008. "Anatomy of a crisis: the causes and consequences of surging food prices," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 39(s1), pages 375-391, November.
    6. Huang, Jikun & Rozelle, Scott, 1996. "Technological change: Rediscovering the engine of productivity growth in China's rural economy," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 337-369, May.
    7. Jikun Huang & Scott Rozelle, 1995. "Environmental Stress and Grain Yields in China," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 77(4), pages 853-864.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ito, Junichi & Ni, Jing, 2013. "Capital deepening, land use policy, and self-sufficiency in China's grain sector," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 24(C), pages 95-107.
    2. Khor, Ling Yee & Zeller, Manfred, 2014. "Inaccurate fertilizer content and its effect on the estimation of production functions," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(C), pages 123-132.
    3. Jinlang Zou & Qun Wu, 2017. "Spatial Analysis of Chinese Grain Production for Sustainable Land Management in Plain, Hill, and Mountain Counties," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(3), pages 1-12, February.

    More about this item


    Land use change; Grain production; Environment stress; Food security; China;

    JEL classification:

    • C21 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Cross-Sectional Models; Spatial Models; Treatment Effect Models
    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
    • R14 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Land Use Patterns


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