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Rural household income distribution and inequality in China: Effects of payments for ecosystem services policies and other factors

Zhang, Qi, Bilsborrow, Richard E., Song, Conghe, Tao, Shiqi, Huang, Qingfeng
Ecological economics 2019 v.160 pp. 114-127
agricultural income, cropland, ecosystem services, forests, household income, households, human capital, income distribution, issues and policy, livelihood, natural capital, off-farm employment, social inequality, China
In the late 1990s, China initiated the Conversion of Croplands to Forest Program (CCFP) and the Ecological Welfare Forest Program (EWFP) based on the Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) principle. Positive socioeconomic outcomes of the programs are essential for the long-term success of eco-environment conservation. However, there is lack of understanding of their longer-term (over 10 years) impacts on rural livelihoods. In this paper, we examine income distribution and inequality of rural households under CCFP and EWFP in rural Anhui, China after 12 years of program implementation. Results show that CCFP-participating households have higher income inequality than non-participants, while the EWFP does not have a significant effect. Local off-farm work and out-migration with remittances are the two principal income sources and both add to inequality. A regression-based decomposition of inequality shows that the CCFP indirectly alters livelihoods by increasing out-migration with remittances, but it also adds to inequality from shifting livelihoods to non-agricultural activities. Meanwhile, EWFP payments positively affect agricultural incomes and contribute 16% to agricultural income inequality. Finally, human capital, natural capital and physical capital all play important roles in generating income and inequality, but the factors affecting inequality from agricultural and non-agricultural activities are different.