Assessing Farmland Protection Policy in China
ABSTRACT: The government of China targeted conversion of farmland to industrial and residential uses, especially in the most productive agricultural regions, as the chief threat to the nation's continued capacity to produce adequate levels of staple cereals. In response, it has introduced a number of measures aimed at protecting farmland, especially farmland with the greatest production potential. This paper reviews the existing evidence regarding the performance of China's farmland protection policies in light of its food security goals. We summarize recent farmland protection measures. Despite administrative restrictions on farmland conversion, cropland continues to decline. The evidence suggests that a substantial share of farmland losses does not represent a reduction in food production capacity. It also suggests that increases in other factors of production can compensate for farmland losses and that farmland protection is not the most efficient—or even a necessary—means of meeting China's food security goals. However, the existing institutional and policy structure create incentives for both insufficient farmland retention and excessive farmland conversion, resulting in significant inefficiencies in land use. We discuss the implications of these failures for future policy development, with an emphasis on reform of the land allocation system.