Title of document:  Multiple pathways: case studies of sustainable agriculture in China.

Authors: Cook, S. and Buckley, L. (eds.)

Ministry/Government Agency/Organisation: IIED, London.

Year of publication: 2015

Geographic focus: China

Chinese agriculture currently faces major challenges. China’s use of fertilisers and pesticides is among the highest in the world. Soil erosion and soil pollution are widespread, as is the loss of agricultural biodiversity as high-yielding hybrid crop varieties replace traditional landraces. Water scarcity is widespread and the rapid pace of urbanisation has led to a mass exodus from rural areas, with major implications on the availability of agricultural labour.

There is a small but growing trend towards sustainable food production and consumption in China, witnessed by the rise in ecological farms, organic farmers’ markets in major cities and an increasing emphasis on sustainability elements in Chinese agricultural policies. This report from IIED presents eight sustainable agriculture initiatives from seven provinces in China. The case studies include cooperatives, companies, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives, and government-led and farmer-led initiatives. The report views sustainability in all its social, economic and environmental dimensions.

The conclusion is that adopting sustainable agriculture in China is quite achievable from a technical standpoint. The major bottlenecks for moving forward are economic and social. Key challenges include how to ensure an adequate market for the products of sustainable agriculture; how to ensure that market returns reflect the environmental, social and health benefits of more sustainable modes of production; how to ensure that smallholders benefit; and how to find sufficient labour to carry out sustainable agricultural practices in rural areas. The case studies showed that collective organisation was essential to the viability of sustainable agriculture and that external actors and the government played a crucial enabling role in supporting a diversity of pathways to sustainable agriculture.