Family farms in China require prudent development

By Dang Guoying
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 3, 2013
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In its first document issued this year, the CPC Central Committee has urged for the development of family farms across the country, a novel organizational form for farming in China. This new development signifies an important step in advancing agricultural modernization.

A family farm is owned and operated by one family. In China, it should also refer to one that is of a considerate scale and can ensure a family's employment of main manpower.

At China's present stage, the general labor force of family farms should consist primarily of rural residents. The progress of this farming format will encourage the transfer of arable land. Through merger and expansion, some farmers will even be able to rise to the level of agribusiness professionals. The transformation to family farms could increase farmers' income and at the same time boost agricultural modernization.

Under decent market conditions, the restriction on a farmer's income increment is mostly derived from the scale of agricultural production. In other words, the manpower in a family fails to reach its full potential. Enlarging the farmers' agricultural scale would put more people to work, and could therefore steadily improve rural people's living conditions.

A rough calculation suggests China has to reduce its number of agricultural households to 30 million so as to ensure rural residents' income to be on par with that of urban citizens, taking into account the continuous rise of the average urban income.

The math further indicates family farms will have to operate at least 60 mu (4 hectares) of arable land on average to meet the criteria after any merger.

Family farms can also raise arable land's utilization, which in turn can improve agricultural economic efficiency. Our sample research has indicated that given the current circumstances, the land's unit utilization will improve by more than 10 percent and its economic efficiency by at least 25 percent when a grain farmer's operational land reaches 100 mu (6.67 hectares).

Other benefits in the developing of family farms include improving agricultural equipment, implementing a farm produce traceability system, lowering production costs and raising quality.

The popularization of family farms in China requires an active yet prudent approach that will provide customized plans for different places, based on their actual and individual situations.

China now has nearly 200 million of rural families. This figure is expected to drop to 100 million when the family farm structure matures, meaning that half of the rural families will move to cities of various sizes.

It will be a lengthy yet unbalanced process. Land transfers and nurturing family farms both take time. In places like the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta, family farm systems will develop faster; whereas in the more remote mountainous areas, poorer natural conditions and lower administrative efficiency continue to stand in the way.

In plain areas, with good conditions, family farms could easily cover up to 10,000 mu (666 hectares) given the technological potential. But they should refrain from excessive expansion since the consequent transfer of excessive labour force, management upgrades, and logistics will fail to develop at matching speed. An excessively big family farm is also likely to foster the subletting of land, causing further complications.

Family farms in these areas are advised to be no bigger than 300 mu (20 hectares) each for crop farming, or 30 mu (2 hectares) for vegetable farming. This size is fit for the family members to attain, if not exceed, the living standard of an urban household in the same region.

Central authorities' structural reform and policy readjustment both play a vital role in developing family farms in China. The following are the three major undertakings.

First, the current urbanization should be continued in a steady way in order to keep the migrated population, the excessive manpower from the rural part, in the city. Once they found urban life too difficult, they might take a step back and return to individual farming. Even out of those who are employed in the city, some still take on farming as a part-time job which they don't treat with the appropriate seriousness.

To ensure these people's livelihoods in the city, the government ought to further reform the household registration system and social security system while also regulating the ever-rising property prices.

On a second note, the rural land policy requires changes. The existing long-term land-lease policies and landownership policies will facilitate the blending of patched arable lands, and benefit the fostering of family farms. In future, we need to fully clarify the term "land ownership." When more families are farming on their own lands and willing to increase their investment in the lands, farming efficiency will consequently be on the rise as well.

Finally then, the government ought to step up its financial and educational support of family farms, while perfecting the whole industry chain. Family farms will pose a challenge to the present land management system. Establishing a farmer registration system could be a good attempt at tackling this issue.

While directly supporting family farms, the government could also encourage urban capitals to participate in the farms' raw material supply and produces' logistics.

When these family farms come into full swing, farmers will want to establish professional cooperatives. At that time, the government should support them as well.

The author is a researcher with the Rural Development Institute of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

This post was first published in Chinese and translated by Chen Boyuan.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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