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8 facts about Chinese agriculture

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Country

Of the total area of 960 million ha, about 645 million ha are used for agriculture and forestry, of which only 134 million ha are arable land. Every year, 400,000 ha of this land is lost to construction. About 2/3 of the arable land is used for cereal cultivation with a decreasing tendency in favor of other fruits. Less than 0.3 ha of land is available per rural worker.

Forestry land in 2020 amounts to 254 million ha, of which 70 million ha is afforested, and the trend is still increasing.

Grasslands, which occupy about 257 million ha, are at high risk of erosion despite efforts to create "green belts." Deserts, which cover a good 270 million ha in China (almost 30 % of the total area), are still expanding, especially in the north and northwest. Settled areas and inland waters occupy another 45 million hectares.

Population

Of the total population of 1.40 billion, about 560 million live in rural areas. The proportion of the population living in rural areas has declined steadily in recent years. It is now (2020) at 40% of the population. The number of rural households is just under 200 million.

Employment and income

The rural labor force is 330 million, of which 230 million work in agriculture. The number of people employed in agriculture will decline by about 50-80 million by 2030, but will still include about 150 million people. The number of migrant workers continues to rise and was 291 million in 2020 (migrant workers are those who are employed outside their home province for more than six months of the year or who are engaged in nonagricultural work within their home province for more than six months of the year). Very many farmers are employed only part-time on their land.

Rural incomes are currently around RMB 12,000/year per person. In contrast, urban incomes are around 35,000 RMB/year. The income of migrant workers is 32,000 RMB/year. Accordingly, the share of income derived from agriculture is steadily declining, and now accounts for significantly less than 50 % of rural income.

Production

The grain harvest has increased from about 500 million tons in the late 1990s to about 602 million tons in 2019. Fruit and vegetable production was 985Mt in 2019, meat 109.7Mt and fishery products 65Mt. China is the world's largest importer of milk and now the third largest producer of dairy products, producing 33 million t in 2019. Organic farming is growing rapidly. It has a production value of RMB 70 billion and a 3.5% share of agricultural production.  In this context, the excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides in China is problematic. This amounts to one third of global consumption on less than 10 % of the world's arable land and thus exceeds the world average by a factor of two.

Fisheries

China is the world's largest fisheries producer, exporter and consumer. In 2019, the total production of fishery products in China reached 65 million tons. China continues to focus on the rapid expansion of aquaculture, which already accounts for 73% of fishery products production. Catches from coastal and inland waters are declining. To conserve stocks, fishing bans and restrictions have been introduced, including on the Yangtze River. The Chinese government is promoting the development and expansion of fishing activities in the coastal waters of other countries and in the high seas. In this context, the Chinese deep-sea fishing fleet is continuously being massively increased and modernized.

Forestry

China is the world's largest importer and exporter of timber. One third of all wood plantation fields worldwide are located in China. Half of China's demand, especially for the pulp industry and fiberboard production, is covered by imports. After decades of overexploitation of the forests, annual logging quotas have now been set to protect wood resources.

To protect against flooding and erosion, logging bans and restrictions have been introduced in large parts of the country, along with extensive reforestation programs.

Foreign trade

Agriculture plays only a minor role in China's foreign trade, with a share of just under 5 %. With exports of US$79.1 billion and imports of US$150.97 billion, the country remained a clear net importer of agricultural products in 2019. The trade deficit of thus US$71.87 billion increased significantly by about 26.5% compared to the previous year.

Social security

Social security for the rural population is completely inadequate. There is no old-age pension; instead, farmers are relegated to their land-use rights. Only one in 10 rural residents has health insurance. Less than 30 % of health care resources are available to them.