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Revisiting subsidies for soil health and sustainable agriculture

Soil degradation and pollution is big problem in China. Not only does it have a tremendous impact on the environment, but it also undermines the productivity and profitability of farming and the resilience of croplands. A government-conducted a survey in 2014 showed that almost a fifth of the country’s farmland was contaminated to varying degrees by organic and inorganic chemical pollutants, mining residues, and heavy metals. That amounts to roughly 250,000 square kilometers of contaminated soil, equivalent to the arable farmland of Mexico. Several policies and subsidy programs aim to address the issue. However, to date, there is little evidence if and to what extent these government subsidies and other policy measures on sustainable agriculture actually benefitted soil health.

In partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC)’s China office, SFSA is assessing the effectiveness and impact of government subsidies on soil health and green agricultural development in China. We conduct detailed studies on how agricultural subsidies and other forms of incentives in the past 10 years were implemented on the ground and evaluate the extent of behavior changes of farmers.

More specifically, the study will assess the following issues:

  • Overview of China’s agricultural policies and subsidies related to soil, water, and resource use efficiency in agriculture, and the extent to which these policies have been implemented to date. The focus is on policy and subsidy schemes in the last ten years at the central and provincial government levels.
  • Impact analysis of these policy and subsidy schemes in two specific provinces and two counties within the provinces. These will be selected to conduct detailed studies on how such schemes are implemented on the ground (including field studies), the extent of behavior changes by farmers, the impact of these changes on crop diversification, yields, and farm incomes.

The findings of the study will be validated and presented at the country level. SFSA and TNC will translate the technical evidence into actionable recommendations and scope out opportunities for policy adjustment.