The Los Angeles Times takes a look at why China’s farmers are getting left behind in the economic reform process:
…With global food prices rising, particularly in China’s cities, conventional wisdom had it that Chinese growers must be enjoying a windfall. After all, some U.S. farmers are profiting handsomely selling pork, soybeans, nuts and other agricultural products to hungry Chinese buyers.
But in contrast to large, highly mechanized American farms, a typical Chinese farm is less than an acre in size and worked by hand. It’s a legacy of communist reform, when the state seized control of China’s farmland and subdivided it into tiny plots. Although this system has kept rural dwellers employed, it has slowed China’s ability to boost their incomes.
Chinese farmers don’t have crop insurance to protect them against disaster; government subsidies are minimal. Because they don’t own their land, growers can’t borrow against it and have little incentive to improve operations. Reliable market forecasts are hard to come by, leaving farmers to speculate about what to plant. Poor roads in many parts of the countryside force growers to sell their harvests locally or to middlemen who pocket much of the markup paid by city dwellers. Add rising costs for labor, seed, fertilizer and fuel, and many producers are seeing their profits squeezed even as retail prices soar.
“No one is going to get rich off farming,” said Scott Rozelle, an expert on China’s rural economy at Stanford University. “It’s not going to happen until farm sizes get bigger. That’s why millions of people are moving to the cities.”