The Overuse of Chemicals on China’s Farms and the Harmful Effects

The study found agricultural chemicals are often used inefficiently on small farms, leading to financial losses and serious local, regional, and global pollution (Image: via University of Melbourne)

The size of China’s farms is a key contributor to the overuse of agricultural chemicals, and as a result, they may be too small to be environmentally sustainable, a new study has found.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, found agricultural chemicals are often used inefficiently on China’s farms, leading to financial losses and serious local, regional, and global pollution ranging from eutrophication (an excess of nutrients in bodies of water, often caused by run-off from the land) to particle pollution in the air and global warming.

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University of Melbourne and Zhejiang researcher Baojing Gu said:

The study used a nationally representative rural household survey and found the small farm size of China’s farms strongly affects the use and intensity of agricultural chemicals across farms in China. A 1 percent increase in farm size was found to be associated with a 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent decrease in fertilizer and pesticide use per hectare respectively.

This corresponded to an almost 1 percent increase in agricultural labor productivity and only an insignificant 0.02 percent decrease in crop yields. University of Melbourne Professor Deli Chen said:

The authors suggest that removing these distortions would decrease agricultural chemical use by 30-50 percent and the environmental impact of those chemicals by 50 percent, while doubling the total income of all farmers, including those who move to urban areas. Dr. Gu added:

China’s farms not growing

The study shows average farm size in China has changed very slowly despite the country’s strong economic growth and urbanisation. From the 1980s to 2000s, the country’s average farm size decreased and has increased slowly since the 2000s. This pattern differs substantially from other developed countries.

It also shows 98 percent of households that run farms own a farm measuring less than 2 hectares in China — a much higher proportion than in other world regions, even Africa. Professor Chen said:

Provided by: University of Melbourne [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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