Collectivized Agriculture an Impediment to Sustainable Agriculture?

The People’s Republic of China is a socialist republic run by the Communist Party. On June 5th, 2014, the president of the Communist Party in China, Xi Jinping, defended China’s one party rule, “just like we cannot turn all flowers violet, we cannot expect countries with different cultural traditions, historical experiences and national realities to follow the same mode of development. Otherwise the world will be too boring”. Xi’s argument was that under China’s current system the country has sustained rapid large-scale development within 30 years. Furthermore, it must be the people of China who decide what type of political system they want, not any other country. The question is: does citing the China’s rapid development really support the Chinese political system?

Collectivized farming is the current agriculture production system called The Household-Responsibilty System (HRS). It was launched in the early 1980s allowing households to contract land, machinery, and other facilities from collective organizations. The aim was to preserve basic unified management of the collective economy, while contracting out land and other goods to households. Under this system, households make operating decisions independently–within the limits set by the contract agreement–and can freely dispose of surplus production over and above national and collective quotas. Admittedly, this system lends itself to the rapid Chinese development of the last thirty years. However, this high level of agricultural output was due in part to the widespread use of chemicals and pesticides, which is unsustainable over time. As Chinese development begins to slow–evidenced by the declining levels of agricultural output–farmers want to move to more sustainable agricultural practices, but are not able to due to the collectivized agricultural system. It is not within their control to switch from industrial farming practices to organic farming practices. 

The debate then, is about whether the Chinese government should move towards the privatization of land in an effort to sustain the land and ensure the continuation of their economic growth. If we return to the quote by President Xi Jinping, he attributes the success of the Chinese economy to the collectivized systems enforced by the Communist Party. Would they be willing to part with aspects of their communist ideals for the sake of economic growth? More importantly, would they be willing to part with communist ideals for the sake of the environment?

While in China, I intend to talk to rural farmers about their farming practices, their thoughts on the Communist Party, and whether they would be willing to make the switch to organic farming if they owned their own property (or if they want to own their own property at all). I’m looking forward to being able to talk with actual farmers in China because, so often, it is the leaders of the Communist party who speak for the Chinese people on the world stage. As a foreigner, I don’t have the opportunity to know how the people really feel about issues such as economic growth and development, environmental sustainability, and party politics. Being able to travel to China and speak directly to the People of the People’s Republic of China, will help me to better understand whether President Xi was correct in saying that the democratic system and neoliberal economic are not best suited for every country given that different countries have different cultural traditions and values. Therefore, maybe the privatization of land is not how the Chinese people intend to make their farming practices more sustainable, but that is something I will only be able to learn once I get into the country and begin my research.