Agriculture in the People's Republic of China

Agriculture in the People's Republic of China

China has the world's largest agricultural economy and one of the most varied. The nation stands first among all others in the production of rice, cotton, tobacco, and hogs and is a major producer of wheat, corn, millet, tea, jute, and hemp. This wide range of crops is possible because of the country's varied climate and agricultural zones. China participates on a large scale in international agricultural markets, both as an exporter and as an importer.

A successful agricultural sector is critical to China's development. First, it must feed more than 1.3 billion people, about 21 percent of the world's population, using only 7 percent of the world's arable land. Second, it must provide raw materials for the industrial sector. Third, agricultural exports must earn the foreign exchange needed to purchase key industrial and technological items from other countries.


China has historically struggled to feed its large population. Even in the twentieth century, famines periodically ravaged China’s population. Great emphasis has always been put on agricultural production, but weather, wars, and politics often mitigated good intentions. With the onset of reforms in the late 1970s, the relative share of agriculture in the gross domestic product (GDP) began to increase annually. Driven by sharp rises in prices paid for crops and a trend toward privatization in agriculture, agricultural output increased from 30% of GDP in 1980 to 33% of GDP by 1983. Since then, however, agriculture has decreased its share in the economy at the same time that the services sector has increased.

By 2004 agriculture (including forestry and fishing) produced only 15.2% of China’s GDP but still is huge by any measure.


This fire their enthusiasm for production. The reforms emancipated and developed rural productive forces, promoted the rapid growth of agriculture - particularly in grain production - and the optimization of agricultural structure.

In the 1990s, China's agriculture and rural economy faced unprecedented difficulties and challenges. But development momentum maintained fairly good nonetheless, with most products in surplus and supply and demand basically in balance every year. The year 2004 was a turning point, with grain production of 469.47 million tons, reversing a five-year decline. Now China leads the world in output of grain, cotton, oil plants, fruit, meat, eggs, aquatic products and vegetables.

Output per capita has risen significantly. In 2004, grain output was 362 kg per capita; per capita figures for meat (pork, beef, and mutton), milk, and aquatic products were above world averages, reaching 44.6 kg, 17.4 kg, and 37.8 kg, respectively.

Increase in Outputs of Main Farm Products (Unit: 10,000 tons):

Agricultural industrialization

In recent years, investment in excess of three billion yuan has been devoted to furthering agricultural industrialization, an important part of the national program for enhancing the international competitiveness of Chinese agriculture. In 2004 alone the government set up 35 agricultural programs, supported by 30 million yuan from the Central Government, over 50 million yuan from local governments, some 100 million yuan of bank loans and more than 600 million yuan raised by enterprises and farmers.

Now a pattern has been formed, with 582 key national enterprises and over 2,000 key provincial enterprises as spearhead, and agencies of various forms connecting farmers with the production base. Leading enterprises in certain sectors, e.g., corn processing, dairy industry and chicken production, have taken major market share and play an increasingly important role in the development and pricing of their respective industries.

Since 2003, the state has set up six types of demonstration projects for the industrialization of modern agro-technology, so as to promote the use of advanced technology for agricultural production, and enhance foreign earnings from exports of farm products.

These projects include industrialization of breeding and cultivation of excellent new varieties and fine strains; high-efficiency, eco-friendly planting and aquatic breeding technology; water-saving and precision technologies; downstream processing of agricultural and ancillary products; pollution-free inputs (e.g., fertilizer and fodder) and the establishment of an agricultural information platform. The "downstream processing of main agricultural products project" was listed as an important sci-tech project during the 2000-2005 Five-Year Plan period. It aims at developing key technologies and equipment for downstream processing of staple agricultural products, research into integrated quality control systems and the quick testing of agro-product technology and equipment. Once completed, some of China's technological aspects will meet the advanced international standard. Meanwhile, the "dairy industry development" and "water-saving agriculture" projects have been listed among important sci-tech application programs initiated by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

cience and technology

The research achievements in hybrid rice of scientist Yuan Longping, internationally regarded as the "father of hybrid rice," rewrote the history of rice cultivation in China in the second half of the 20th century. In 2003, Yuan Longping made a breakthrough in bilinear hybrid rice research. In two small demonstration fields, the per-hectare yield of super-class hybrid rice reached 12,112 kg and 12,261 kg and now large scale trials of this super-class hybrid rice are being conducted. Yuan Longping's next goal is to produce super-class hybrid rice with a yield in excess of 13,500 kg per ha before 2010.

Government programs play a significant role in improving sci-tech knowledge by conveying advanced sci-tech achievements to the countryside and to every rural household; examples include the Spark Program, the Promotion of Important Achievements Plan, the Bumper Harvest Plan, and the Prairie Fire Program.


Agriculture represented 70% of the employment at the beginning of Deng Xiaoping's reforms in 1978. In twenty years, the rate dropped to reach 50%. The return to family concern, conveyance, liberalization of productions and prices favored productivity earnings of a 4% a year. Today, the agricultural workforce is still in surplus and estimated at about 100 million individuals.

Some 46.9% of the total national workforce was engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fishing in 2004.


According to United Nations statistics, China’s cereal production is the largest in the world. In 2003 China produced 377 million tons, or 18.1% of total world production.

Its plant oil crops—at 15 million tons in 2003—are a close second to those of the United States and amounted to 12.6% of total world production. More specifically, China’s principal crops in 2004 were rice (176 million tons), corn (132 million tons), sweet potatoes (105 million tons), wheat (91 million tons), sugarcane (89 million tons), and potatoes (70 million tons). Other grains, such as barley, buckwheat, millet, oats, rye, sorghum, and triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid), added substantially to overall grain production.

Crops of peanuts, rapeseed, soybeans, and sugar beets also were significant, as was vegetable production in 2004. Among the highest levels of production were cabbages, tomatoes, cucumbers, and dry onions.

In 2004 fruit production also became a significant aspect of the agricultural market. China produced large crops of watermelons, cantaloupes, and other melons that year. Other significant orchard products were apples, citrus fruits, bananas, and mangos.

China, a nation of numerous cigarette smokers, also produced 2.4 million tons of tobacco leaves.

Township enterprises

Huge gains in agricultural efficiency have emancipated huge numbers of rural laborers from the land, thus laying the basis for the development of farmer-run township enterprises whose competitively priced goods and services sell well across China. They are involved in many sectors, e.g. industry, agricultural products processing, transportation and communications, construction, commerce and catering.

By 2004, 22.13 million township enterprises, with 138.66 million employees had generated 4,181.5 billion yuan in added value, a 13.9 percent increase over 2003.

Now the driving force behind the increase in farmers' income and rural economic development, township enterprises have created job opportunities for about 30 percent of rural laborers to date.

Fertilizer use

Fertilizer use was a major contributor to these abundant harvests. In 2002 China consumed 25.4 million tons of nitrogenous fertilizers, or 30% of total world consumption and more than double the consumption of other major users such as India and the United States in the same period. Among the less used fertilizers, China also was a leader. It consumed 9.9 million tons of phosphate fertilizers (29.5% of the world total) and 4.2 million tons of potash fertilizers (18.2% of the world total).


With China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, food export opportunities have developed that have brought about still more efficient farming techniques. As a result, traditional areas such as grain production have decreased in favor of cash crops of vegetables and fruit for domestic and export trade.


China’s livestock herds are the largest in the world, far outstripping all of Europe combined and about comparable in size to all African nations combined. For example, in 2003 China had 49.1% of the world’s pigs, 22.5% of the world’s goats, and 7.5% of the world’s cattle.

Converted into food production, China’s major livestock products in 2004 were pork (47.2 million tons), poultry eggs (28.0 million tons), cow’s milk (18.5 million tons), poultry meat (13.4 million tons), and beef and veal (6.4 million tons). Other meats of significant amounts were mutton, lamb, and goat. Major by-products were cattle hides (1.6 million tons), sheepskins (321,000 tons), and goatskins (375,000 tons).

Honey (300,000 tons) and raw silk (95,000 tons) also were major products destined for the commercial market.


Forestry products, measured in annual roundwood production, also abound.

In 2004 China produced an estimated 284 million cubic meters of roundwood, the world’s third largest supplier after the United States and India, or about 8.5% of total world production. From the roundwood, some 11.3 million cubic meters of sawn wood are produced annually.


China also leads the world in fish production.

In 2003 it caught 16.7 million tons of fish, far outcatching the second-ranked nation, the United States, with its 4.9 million tons. Aquaculture also was substantial in world terms. In the same year, China harvested 28.8 million tons of fish, an amount more than 10 times that of the second-ranked nation, India, which produced 2.2 million tons.

The total fish production in 2003 was 45.6 million tons. Of this total, 63.2% was from aquaculture, an increasing sector, and 36.7% from fish caught in rivers, lakes, and the sea.

Agricultural chemicals

China’s agricultural chemical market has been the subject of great attention, and as one of the biggest agro-chemical consumers and a large agro-chemical importer.

In 2005, China’s total fertilizer production reached 48.97 million tons and pesticide production reached 1.03 million tons, with an annual growth rate of 5.7% and 20.3%, respectively. Despite this growth, domestic output of fertilizer is still not able to meet local market demand, forcing China to import high-concentration and compound fertilizers. China needs to import 20,000-30,000 tons annually of high-efficiency and low residual pesticide to supplement local products and offer greater variety. China’s goal is to rely less on fertilizer imports in the future. However, the country lacks potassium resources and its phosphate is difficult to recover. Domestic output of fertilizer still cannot meet the total market demand, forcing China to import high-concentration and compound fertilizers.

On WTO accession, tariffs dropped 6% from the 11% import duty rate. WTO commitments stipulate that all quotas must be fully allocated, forbidding the current practice of limiting imports by only allocating a certain portion of the quotas each year. On October 10, 2006, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) released the 2007 fertilizer import tariff rate quotas (TRQs). The total 2007 TRQs will be 3.3 million tons of urea imports, 6.9 million tons of diammonium phosphate (DAP) and 3.45 million tons of NPK compound fertilizers. Of the TRQs, 2.97 million tons of urea, 4.49 million tons of DAP and 2.24 million tons of NPK are for state trading while non-state trading TRQs will be 330,000 tons of urea, 2.41 million tons of DAP and 1.21 million tons of NPK. The import volumes within the quota are levied an import duty of 4%, while imports exceeding the quota are levied a duty of 50%.

In October 2006, the Tariff Policy Commission of the State Council announced a temporary reduction of the in-quota tariff rate for fertilizer from four percent to one percent, effective November 2006.According to an expert from China Phosphate Industry Association, this reduction will not much influence the fertilizer import market due to the increase both in local fertilizer’s quality and in foreign fertilizer’s cost.

Based on the WTO commitment, from December 11, 2006 China will start to allow foreign companies to gain the right to retail and distribute fertilizers. China’s fertilizer circulation field will face more fierce competition. China is taking measures to regulate the pesticide market to prevent toxic runoff and alleviate risks of consumer poisoning. The proportion of herbicides and fungicides within pesticides production has increased. The proportion of output of the pesticides featuring high performance, low toxicity and better safety characteristics has also increased. Imports of high efficiency, low toxicity, and low residual pesticides have strong market prospects, mainly as an alternative to highly toxic Chinese pesticides.

Fertilizer: The local producers have yet to meet the growing local market demand, especially for phosphate and potassium fertilizer, which are limited natural resources. China still must rely on importing fertilizers in large quantities.

* Nitrogen fertilizer
* Phosphate fertilizer
* Potash fertilizer

Pesticides: High efficiency, low toxicity pesticides have strong prospects. Although domestic output of pesticides satisfies local demand in most areas, domestic production of high efficiency herbicides, high-efficiency and low-toxicity insecticides and fungicides cannot meet the demand both in terms of quantity and quality. Some raw pesticides and intermediates rely on imports, such as aniline with o-dihydroxybenzene, furphenol and tripoly-nitrogen-chlorine dialdyl. It has been imperative for China to stop the application and production of highly-toxic pesticides, especially organo-phosphorus biocides, since the high-toxic pesticides take up about 36% of the country's total consumption.

* Herbicides
* Environmentally safe insecticides
* Biopesticides
* New technologically advanced pesticides

Because the Chinese government now emphasizes environmentally sound technologies, pesticides will have to meet new requirements.

Food safety

ee also

: "Main lists: List of basic agriculture topics and List of agriculture topics"

*Climate change and agriculture
*Green Revolution
*Industrial agriculture
*Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
*List of domesticated animals
*List of subsistence techniques
*List of countries by agricultural output
*List of sustainable agriculture topics
*Timeline of agriculture and food technology.
*Organic farming
*Agricultural economics


* [ China] - FAO Country Profiles and Mapping Systemloc []

External links

* [ Agriculture in China] Britannica Encyclopaedia
* [,2340,en_2649_201185_35557433_1_1_1_1,00.html OECD Review of Agricultural Policies - China]
* [ China agriculture review] China's agriculture reforms, challenges, technologies and achievements.
* [ China: Agriculture in Transition] Publications - U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service
* [ China's Food and Agriculture: Issues for the 21st Century]
* [ The End of Agriculture in China] NPR

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