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Fertile futures: nurturing the shoots of China’s sustainable agriculture

Seth Cook

Briefing

In only a few decades, China’s farming has evolved from a diverse ‘agriculture without waste’ to one increasingly reliant on specialised, high-external input, resource-intensive, commercially-oriented models. Today, Chinese agriculture faces major environmental challenges, from unsustainably high applications of fertilisers and pesticides to widespread soil erosion, pollution, water scarcity and the loss of agricultural biodiversity. Coupled with the dramatic depopulation of rural areas and high-profile food safety scares, these challenges are prompting the emergence of a growing movement towards sustainable agriculture, witnessed by the rise in ecological farms and organic farmers’ markets in major cities, as well as increasing emphasis on sustainability in Chinese policies related to agriculture. This briefing paper summarises these ‘new shoots’ in sustainable agriculture, drawing on detailed research conducted by IIED and its Chinese partners. It concludes by offering insights into how sustainable agricultural practices can be better supported, both in China and elsewhere.

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