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Land abandonment under rural restructuring in China explained from a cost-benefit perspective

Zhang, Ying, Li, Xiubin, Song, Wei, Zhai, Liang
Journal of rural studies 2016 v.47 pp. 524-532
abandoned land, agricultural land, farming systems, household surveys, input costs, labor, land use, models, prediction, prices, profits and margins, rural areas, rural development, socioeconomics, sustainable development, urban areas, China
China has experienced socio-economic transitions in recent decades, featuring a large amount of rural labor migrating into urban areas. As a response, rural land use has been restructured across large areas. In this process, vast amounts of land have been abandoned due to labor loss, especially in mountainous areas. Understanding how land attributes determine which land parcels are abandoned is essential to sustainable development of rural areas. Here we examine how two main farmland parcel attributes, farmland-to-housing distance and land quality, by affecting farming costs and benefits, and thereby profits, determine farmland abandonment. We constructed a semi-empirical crop profit model based on output benefits and input costs derived from household survey data from mountainous Wulong County, Chongqing Province, China. With this model, crop profits can be estimated and in turn the farmland-to-housing distances at which farming profits diminish to zero (“zero profit distance”, abbreviated as “ZPD”) can be identified. Based on the hypothesis that land will be abandoned when cultivation cannot make profits, ZPD values can be used to predict patterns of abandonment. At current price levels, the ZPD values are 5.94 km, 3.84 km, 2.52 km and 1.48 km for first-class, second-class, third-class and fourth-class land, respectively. Overall, the observed occurrence of land abandonment in relation to farmland-to-housing distance and land quality is concordant with the model’s predictions, supporting the underlying hypothesis that land will be abandoned when the farmland-to-housing distance exceeds the ZPD. These findings may serve as an important tool for predicting land abandonment and identifying countermeasures for mountainous areas.