Agricultural development and nutrition: the policies behind China's success

Type Book
Title Agricultural development and nutrition: the policies behind China's success
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2009
Publisher World Food Programme
The emergence of China is one of the miracle
growth stories of the last part of the
20th century and the early part of the 21st
century. Its economy has been the fastest
growing when compared with world
economies since 1980 (World Bank, 2002).
Growth has occurred in all sectors, including
agriculture. Poverty has fallen. In the past
30 years the absolute level of poverty fell from
260 million in 1978 to 14.8 million in 2007 on
the basis of China’s official poverty line
(National Statistical Bureau of China [NSBC],
2008). The general welfare of most of the
population has increased markedly. Many
indicators of nutritional status have improved:
for example the number of children with low
body weight fell by more than half (Ministry of
Health, 2004). And by the end of 2007 China
had achieved most of its Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs).
These accomplishments are impressive, but
there are still major challenges ahead. Income
disparity, for example, rose with economic
growth: there are significant disparities among
regions, between urban and rural areas and
among households in the same location (Cai
et al., 2002; World Bank, 2002). There are
also regional differences in nutritional status
(Chen, 2004). In China’s poorest areas there is
still a high incidence of anaemia, which
impedes educational performance and reduces
physical strength and productivity, thus
contributing to chronic poverty (Chen, 2004).
Agriculture is responsible for much of the
improvement in the incomes and nutritional
status of the poor. Since 1978 average annual
growth in China’s agricultural sector has been
much higher than population growth, but high
input levels in many areas and diminishing
marginal returns may mean that increasing
inputs will not provide large increases in
output. Many have predicted that in future
almost all gains will have to come from new
technologies that significantly improve
agricultural productivity (Fan and Pardey,
1997; Huang et al., 2003; Huang et al., 2002a,
2002b and 2004). Trade liberalization and
tensions between the environment and
development will further challenge China’s
agricultural and rural economy.
How has China achieved this growth? How
will it maintain the growth? At a time when the
rest of the world is struggling to prevent many
of the MDG indicators from deteriorating, how
has China been able to move so aggressively
towards meeting its MDGs? What is the policy
basis that has helped produce this success?

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