China session of IAMO Forum 2019

01 July 2019

On June 26, a panel session entitled "Current challenges and way forward for Chinese agriculture after 40 years of rural reforms", organized by IAMO China Research Group, was held in IAMO Forum 2019. A panel of renowned researchers from various fields engaged in lively discussions.

After a short yet comprehensive introductory talk on past policy reforms of China by Dr Lena Kuhn from IAMO, five flash talks focused on some of the specific challenges and future perspectives of China's San-Nong issues, namely agriculture, rural areas and farmers.

Prof Shuyi Feng from Nanjing Agricultural University presented the development of agricultural land markets and the research gaps. One important highlight was that land markets are still not fully effective in increasing plot sizes of household farms but usually rather increase land holdings of few large commercial farms. Prof Yu Sheng from Beijing University focused on the issue of agricultural productivity and the role of technology in closing the productivity gap in a sustainable way. Especially, he raised the question whether China can achieve food sufficiency in the future. Prof Elena Mayer-Clement from Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin elaborated on the effects of agricultural policy and structural change on rural livelihoods. She contested that more research is required into the distribution of benefits of urbanization and rural reallocation, its influence on grassroots governance, as well as its influence on the nature of conflicts in rural society. In her flash talk, Prof Lan Fang showed the heterogeneous patterns and determinants of poverty across different regions. Thus, she argued for a region-customized poverty alleviation approach. The final speaker, Prof Minjuan Zhao presented a framework and pathway for "Green Transition" of Chinese agriculture to mitigate environmental externalities. She urged the transition to green agricultural is not only a task for producers but also a duty for urban consumers-the demand side pull is also critical for the transition.

These talks laid the groundwork for the ensuing panel discussion, moderated by Dr Zhanli Sun. The panelists disagreed on whether China's agriculture is on a crossroad facing new challenges and opportunities, as Zhao and Sheng emphasized, or current rural reforms are merely a continuation of the last decades' development path and policy reforms, as argued by Meier-Clement and Feng. Besides, Sheng highlighted the potential of technological progress, in particular digitalization, in giving new opportunity for consolidation economic, social and environmental needs. Fundamental challenges like infrastructure, institutions, technology and awareness remain. In a closing remark, Sheng claimed: "The true watershed is the fact that China for the first time realizes that rural and agricultural development in China is no special case but follows the same paths than anywhere else."

Prof Thomas Herzfeld summarized the session to close the fruitful discussions.