Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Farming Population in China

China has always been a nation of farmers. Keeping the farmers contented in the countryside, while producing enough food for the whole country, has been a national priority for thousands of years. If productivity is low because of poor weather, corruption, war, poor policies, or some other causes, the whole nation suffers. Books such as the rigorously-researched 中國農民調查 detailed some of current problems the peasants are faced with.

If, on the other hand, appropriate policies and market forces are allowed to operate on the farmlands, increasing farmland productivity to a level comparable to developed countries, what would be the consequences? Prosperity would likely come to part of the population, particularly those who own the land. But what about those who are no longer needed on the farms?

5% of the population in the European Union, and 1.7% in the U.S.A. are farmers. That’s all that is needed to produce enough food to feed the population, more or less. In comparison, about 60% of the population in China are farmers. So, if the farms of China become only half as productive as those in Europe, half of her population, that is, about 600,000,000 people will no longer be needed on the farms.

That’s a seismic shift in demographics. What are these people going to do? Will enough jobs be created so that these extra bodies can be gainfully occupied, and the mouths fed, so to speak? Where are they going to live? They will likely want to move to the cities to find jobs. Can they be accommodated? It is not easy governing China.

These questions are common knowledge, of course. Just that having traveled in the countryside in China a bit in the past years, these issues strike me much closer now.

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