Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2018, Vol. 73 ›› Issue (5): 803-817.doi: 10.11821/dlxb201805002

• Land Use and Ecosystem Services • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Economic characteristics and the mechanism of farmland marginalization in mountainous areas of China

LI Shengfa1,2,3(),LI Xiubin1,2()   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. Guangdong Open Laboratory of Geospatial InformationTechnology and Application, Guangzhou Institute of Geography, Guangzhou 510070, China
  • Received:2017-07-10 Online:2018-05-03 Published:2018-05-03
  • Supported by:
    National Basic Research Program of China (973 Program), No.2015CB452706;The NSFC-IIASA Major International Joint Research Project, No.41161140352;GDAS' Special Project of Science and Technology Development, No.2018GDASCX-0903, No.2017GDASCX-0101, No.2018GDASCX-0101


Farmland marginalization has become the main trend of land-use change in the mountainous areas of China. Using the China Agricultural Production Costs and Returns Compilation (annual survey data of major agricultural production costs and earnings at national and provincial levels), this paper first analyzed the changes in the cost structure of agricultural production and the farmers' responses, under the context of the rapid rise in agricultural labor prices since 2003, and further compared the responses from the mountainous and plain regions. We found that farmers on the plains have reduced their labor input effectively through intensive use of agricultural machinery, which has minimized the impact of the increase in labor price. However, it is a severe challenge for farmers in the mountainous areas to use the same method due to the rough terrains. Thus, the agricultural labor productivity in these areas has increased relatively slowly, causing a widening gap in agricultural labor productivity between the two regions. With the rapid rise in labor costs, the marginalization of cultivated land in the mountainous areas is evident. In 2013, the profit of agricultural production in mountainous China, which takes maize cultivation as a representative, has fallen below zero. Since 2000, the land-use and land cover change in these areas has been characterized by the reduction of farmland area, reforestation, and the enhancement of the NDVI value. The high correlation between the NDVI change rate and the ratio of change in farmland (r = -0.70) and forest (r = 0.91) areas in mountainous areas at provincial level from 2000 to 2010, attests to the trend of farmland marginalization there. Finally, according to the analysis results, we summarized the mechanism of such marginalization against the backdrop of the rapid increase in the opportunity cost of farming and the sharp fall of agricultural labor forces. This study contributes to a deep understanding of the development process of farmland abandonment and forest transformation in the mountainous areas of China.

Key words: farmland marginalization, farmland abandonment, agricultural labor cost, agricultural labor productivity, mountainous areas, China