Arguments - Impact
|Urbanization will affect
China's food system in various ways: (1) it will promote commercial agriculture and (2)
the growth of a modern food industry; (3) urban infrastructure expansion will reduce
cropland areas; (4) urbanization will speed up change in diet; (5) increasing urban (air)
pollution and waste discharge will affect soils and irrigation systems; and (6) growing
urban freshwater consumption will compete with agricultural water demand.
of the Problem
|It is not obvious how
urbanization could affect Chinas (future) food security. One might argue that it
does not seem to make a big difference whether people consume food in a city or in a
village. In terms of overall food (calorie) demand, the differences are probably not
great. However, on closer inspection a number of indirect consequences must be considered:
urbanization affect farmers?
it affect the food industry?
urbanization speed up change in diet?
growth of towns, cities, and urban infrastructure significantly decrease cropland areas?
and industrial (air) pollution and wastewater discharge affect agricultural productivity?
freshwater consumption affect the agricultural water supply?
|Commercial, market-oriented agriculture
|Currently, a large
number of farmers in China produce mainly for their own families. At the national level,
about 50 - 60% of the grain production is directly consumed by the farmers and
their families, 30-40% goes into the state procurement system, and only a small percentage
goes to free market trade (see Table 1). In the past, grain procurement at
state-controlled prices and fixed quotas was used to supply urban residents with food and
to balance differences between grain-deficit and -surplus regions. One of the measures was
an interprovincial planned grain allocation scheme (see Song, 1997).
In the future, when a larger proportion of the population will be living in urban
areas and working in nonagricultural sectors, the remaining farmers will be required to
greatly increase their productivity and switch to commercial agriculture. In all modern,
industrialized societies, only a small fraction of the population (between about 3% and
10%) works in agriculture, but they produce food for the other 90% or more of the
population. Usually, one farmer can feed between 15 and 30 people (or even more).
China's socialist market economy has responded to this challenge by implementing
the so-called "Grain Bag Governor Responsibility System" (GRS). This policy,
initiated in 1993, should help to increase grain production by fine-tuning the
hierarchical system of macrocontrol and state procurement. Elements of more efficient
interprovincial marketing have been introduced and the provincial and local governments
are now required to achieve regional grain self-sufficiency. The local
authorities have responded to this policy with a mixture of stricter administrative
controls and economic measures (such as subsidies) to boost grain production.
However, this can only be a transitional phase. In the long run, China will have to
replace the system of fixed quotas and "state prices" with strong economic
incentives for farmers (subsidies, tax measures) to increase grain production. The problem
of balancing regional divergences in grain self-sufficiency must be solved through
transparent markets rather than through planned grain allocation among prefectures and
provinces. In other words, a growing urban sector will promote China's development toward
fully market-oriented commercial agriculture.
|A modern food industry
|Urbanization will also
affect Chinas food industry. Unlike farmers, urban residents cannot live from their
own fields, but have to buy food on the market or obtain it from state-subsidized shops.
With the gradual decline of the state-run food distribution system, private enterprises
(the food processing industry, wholesalers, supermarkets) will flourish in the food
sector. Chinas urbanization will certainly drive the expansion of a market-oriented
food industry. Available statistics indicate that the food industry is already one of the
most rapidly growing sectors in Chinas economy. The gross output value of the food
processing industry grew by almost 120% between 1993 and 1997. In comparison, the gross
output value increased by only some 69% in all other industrial sectors. The increase in
the food manufacturing industry was 107% (see Table 2). A modern food industry that can
efficiently handle post-harvest processing, storage, packaging, preservation, and
distribution of food is essential for the countrys food security. As the "Great
Leap Forward" disaster showed, deficient food logistics often contribute to famine.
|Change in diet
|Another consequence of
urbanization in China will be an accelerated change in diet. Urban residents
typically prefer a more diverse diet and eat more processed foods. They also typically eat
more meat and dairy products, which boosts livestock production. If we compare China's
diet with those of other developed (Asian) countries, we can see that further changes are
certainly possible, or even likely (see Table 3). (See also the special section on Change in Diet).
|Loss of arable land
|The growth of cities
and towns also leads to the conversion of arable land to built up areas, although
increasing population density (e.g., "vertical growth" through high rises)
somewhat moderates this effect. In contrast to agricultural land-use changes, which are
usually reversible, transformation of arable land to built up areas, such as highways or
settlements, tends to be permanent or reversible only at very high costs. Available
statistics show significant increases in built-up land in 12 major urban areas of China
between 1989 and 1995.
Urbanization not only causes an expansion of built-up areas for housing, but also has
far-reaching effects on indirect land-cover change. Urban populations need a much broader
supply and service infrastructure than rural populations - from shopping centers to water
reservoirs. They usually cannot build their houses with local products, such as clay or
wood; instead, steel mills and cement factories are necessary for urban construction. They
cannot collect firewood for cooking and heating, but depend instead on the production and
distribution of commercial energy. Much cultivated land in China was lost due to the
construction of dams for hydropower generation. Cities also need special areas for sewage
treatment and waste disposal; in villages, this is often taken care of at the household
level. The process of urbanization usually triggers the growth of a specific supply
infrastructure and city-specific land-use forms, such as parks, recreation areas, and
sport stadiums, which further diminish cropland areas around the cities. Farmers around
rich coastal cities in China have already protested against the construction of golf
courses and other land-consuming sports facilities for the growing upper class. Table 4
and Figure 1 detail land-use changes in China between 1988 and 1995. They show that during
that period some 980,000 ha of cultivated land had been used for construction activities
of all kinds.
|Urban pollution and water consumption
urbanization, China will face pollution problems typical of cities and urban
agglomerations: growing air pollution from traffic, rising wastewater discharge, and
growing solid waste deposits. China already has one of the most serious water pollution
problems in the world (see Table 5). For a more detailed discussion see also the chapter
on Water resources.
Urbanization: Trends Impact
Data Quality Prediction Error Intervention Possibilities Intervention Costs
Revision 2.0 (First revision published in 1999)
- Copyright © 2011 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. (First revision: Copyright © 1999 by IIASA.)