The Dilemma of China's Dryland Agriculture in Inner Mongolia

Economic Growth, Poverty Alleviation and Sustainability – The Difficulty to Develop the Idea of Environmentalism

by Cilia Neumann (Author)
©2018 Thesis XLIV, 244 Pages


China must increase its agricultural production and yields of staple crops to guarantee food security. This leads to ever-increasing agricultural land-use in Inner Mongolia and has contributed to the environmental problems visible today. Vast economic development and involvement in globalized markets have all left a measurable mark on Inner Mongolia’s environment. The author provides insight into Inner Mongolia’s dryland agriculture, its agitators, environmental, social and political obstacles as well as opportunities. Conducted in Inner Mongolia, her research illustrates the development process of a sustainable agriculture and the evolution of environmental awareness in an economically and ecologically underdeveloped region.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Maps
  • List of Tables
  • List of Abbreviatons
  • 1. Introduction
  • 1.1 State of the Field
  • 1.2 Outline and Structure
  • 1.3 Methodology
  • 1.4 Theoretical Framework
  • 1.4.1 Economic Growth and Poverty Alleviation
  • 1.4.2 The Environmental Kuznets Curve
  • 1.4.3 Developing Environmental Awareness
  • 2. Research Framework
  • 2.1 Project Setting
  • 2.2 Field Research
  • 2.2.1 Challenges
  • 2.2.2 Questionnaire
  • 2.2.3 Realization and Distribution
  • 3. Region of Study
  • 3.1 Historical Review
  • 3.2 Inner Mongolia
  • 3.2.1 Dryland Insight
  • 3.2.2 Hetao Plain and Hetao Irrigation District
  • 4. Pastoralism versus Agriculture: Different Land-Use Varieties
  • 4.1 Culture Clash: Han and Mongols – Distinction and Delineation
  • 4.2 Political Changes in Inner Mongolia
  • 4.2.1 Inner Mongolia’s Variety of Land-Use
  • 4.2.2 Impact for Mongolian Herders
  • 5. Economy versus Ecology: China’s Balancing Act – A Challenge for Inner Mongolia
  • 5.1 Inner Mongolia as Part of Rural Reforms integrated in China’s Agricultural Development
  • 5.2 Economic and Environmental Background of China
  • 5.3 Socio-Economic Situation of Inner Mongolia
  • 6. Empirical Research I: Intensive Cropping in Inner Mongolia: Potato and Poverty Alleviation
  • 6.1 The Potato’s Role in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, 2011–2015
  • 6.2 The Potato’s Role in Inner Mongolia – More than Just a Staple Food
  • 6.3 Case Study 1: Potatoes in Siziwang Qi Banner
  • 7. Inner Mongolia’s Environmental Concerns – The Change of the Environment since 1950
  • 7.1 Irrigation and Water Shortage in Inner Mongolia – A Severe Problem for Farmers and Herdsmen
  • 7.1.1 The Inner Mongolian Water-Rights System and the Function of Water User Associations
  • 7.1.2 Case Study 2: Irrigation in Siziwang Qi Banner
  • 7.2 Desertification and Sandstorms – A Threat to the Local Population
  • 7.3 Dealing with Desertification: National Policies versus NGO Based Action Programs in Inner Mongolia
  • 8. Empirical Research II
  • 8.1 Developing Environmental Awareness and Pro-Environmental Behaviour in Inner Mongolia
  • 8.2 Case Study 3
  • 8.2.1 Siziwang Potato Smallholders
  • 8.2.2 Farmers and Herdsmen in Inner Mongolia
  • 9. Conclusion
  • 10. Bibliography
  • Appendices

| xv →

List of Figures

Fig. 1:China’s Agricultural Dilemma

Fig. 2:Environmental Degradation Kuznets Curve

Fig. 3:Environmental Degradation Tunnel Effect Kuznets Curve

Fig. 4:Development of China’s Economy

Fig. 5:Potato Producing Countries in the World 2012

Fig. 6:Environmental Awareness and Action Building Process in Inner Mongolia

Fig. 7:China’s Education System

Fig. 8:Crop Distribution of Interviewees in Inner Mongolia

| xvii →

List of Maps

Map. 1:Prefectures of Inner Mongolia

Map. 2:Russia, China and the Origins of the People’s Republic of Mongolia

Map. 3:Larger Area of Hetao (including Houtao, Qiantao and Xitao) during Ming and Qing Dynasty

Map. 4:Agricultural Areas in Hetao during Ming and Qing Dynasty

Map. 5:Hetao Irrigation District with its Canal System

Map. 6:China’s, Agro-Ecological Zones of Potato Cultivation

Map. 7:Precipitation Distribution China

Map. 8:Expansion of Northern Chinese Drylands 1948–2008

Map. 9:Vegetation Cover in North China

| xix →

List of Tables

Tab. 1:Fishbein & Ajzen 197524

Tab. 2:Rajecki 198225

Tab. 3:Hines, Hungerford & Tomera 198625

Tab. 4:Fietkau & Kessel 198127

Tab. 5:Blake 199928

Tab. 6:Structure of Questionnaire33

Tab. 7:Coding and Categorizing35

Tab. 8:Composition of Inner Mongolia’s GDP107

Tab. 9:Potato Planting Area, Production and Yield 2006122

Tab. 10:Potato Production in China 1961–2009123

Tab. 11:Crop Rotation and Intercropping among Thirty Farmers in Siziwang Qi134

Tab. 12:Crop Selection among Thirty Farmers in Siziwang Qi135

Tab. 13:Purpose of Re-Investment among Thirty Farmers in Siziwang Qi136

Tab. 14:Field Size among Thirty Farmers in Siziwang Qi136

Tab. 15:Principles of Water User Associations156

Tab. 16:Crop Distribution among Thirty Farmers in Siziwang Qi157

Tab. 17:Soil Issues among Thirty Farmers in Siziwang Qi159

Tab. 18:Allocation of Re-Investment among Thirty Farmers in Siziwang Qi160

Tab. 19:Level of Graduation193

Tab. 20:Correlation of Education to Awareness and Pro-Environmental Behaviour195

Tab. 21:Effect of Environmental Awareness to Future Perspective199

Tab. 22:Parents Career Choices for their Children200

| xxi →

List of Abbreviatons

AD Anno Domini [Latin]; after Christ

AHNI Annual Household Net Income

BC/BCE Before Christ/Before the Common Era

CCICCD China Coordination Implementation Committee to Combat Desertification

CCICED China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development

CEO Chief Executive Officer

CIP Centro Internacional di Papa (International Potato Center)

COD Chemical Oxygen Demand

EKC Environmental Kuznets Curve

FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States

GDP Gross Domestic Product

GfG Grain for Green Policy

HID Hetao Irrigation District

HPRS Household Production Responsibility System

HRS Household Responsibility System

ID Irrigation District

NGO Non-Governmental Organization

NPO Non-Profit Organization

OECD Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

OISCA Organization for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement-International

PRC People’s Republic of China

PSE Producer Support Estimate

R&D Research and Development

RMB Renminbi, Currency China

ROI Return of Investment

SFAGM Small Farmers Adapting to Global Markets

UN United Nations

UNCCD United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

US/USA United States/United States of America

USDA United States Department of Agriculture ← xxi | xxii →

WHO World Health Organization

WTO World Trade Organization

WUA Water User Association

YRWCC Yellow River Water Conservancy Commission, China

| 1 →

1. Introduction

To cope with the needs of its growing population, mainly to guarantee food security, China must increase its agricultural production and yields of staple crops. This leads to ever-increasing agricultural land-use in Inner Mongolia, and in the worst cases, remaining grassland or other eco-systems are being transformed into farmland. Inner Mongolia already suffers from land fragmentation due to small-farm households and the cultivation of “towel-size” fields.11 The government forcefully tries to limit these land-use practices with land consolidation in order to increase the agricultural productivity, household income and crop yield as well as to improve land quality. For the agricultural and pastoral sector the chronic water shortage of Inner Mongolia, which have led to eroded fields and the expansion of desertificated acreage, is a major problem hindering productivity. Therefore methods to improve agricultural water-use efficiency are of top priority for the government as well as for the agricultural stakeholder.

Observing the situation of Inner Mongolia’s ecology, a specific sequence of events have contributed to the environmental problems visible today. These include the development of intensive crop cultivation as well as a modernized livestock production, the vast economic development and the involvement in globalized markets which have all left a measurable mark on Inner Mongolia’s environment. Looking at the current situation of China’s agriculture, the Twelfth Five-Year Plan appears to be very ambitious, and it is questionable how the government and farmers will be able to implement and support the new policy.

Governmental policies – still with emphasis on economic growth – rely on the model of poverty alleviation via rising productivity, acreage and yield. The prevention of soil erosion, acidification and desertification are of national priority and supported land consolidation appears to be a potential tool to reduce further field fragmentation.

In summary the author argues that Inner Mongolia’s dryland agriculture is in a dilemma. It is confronted with environmental problems such as severe soil erosion, salinization and desertification, all due to chronic water shortages and agricultural mismanagement, which hampers agronomical development. ← 1 | 2 →

Three aspects are of particular interest and are important for a sustainable, profitable economic development in Inner Mongolia and therefore will now be addressed.

1. How do the past and current food resources meet the demand of China’s population?

Potato production is part of China’s national policy to become self-sufficient in the major food crops, despite its limited agricultural resources.12 Therefore the productivity and yield has to increase to meet the nation’s demand of a stable food supply. But the realities show that Inner Mongolia’s potato production is not successful in terms of profitability. On the contrary, the production is marked by substandard yields and increasing acreage.

What are the key factors responsible for the crop loss in Inner Mongolia? Western potato growers are extraordinary efficient and harvest more than 40 metric tons per hectare, whereas an Inner Mongolian farmer has a yield of 15 metric tons per hectare.13

How does Inner Mongolia’s cultivation method affect the environment when arable land is limited but the production has to increase?

Because Inner Mongolia produces more than forty percent of China’s total domestic potato production its cultivation is of high priority for China’s government in this region. The potato is particularly significant because of its quality in terms of yield, drought-resistance, and high nutritional value. By supporting and increasing potato production and potato processing industry in Inner Mongolia, China has the opportunity to establish a sustainable, but still highly productive agricultural system, able to compete with international standards and the world market. But the majority of the rural population in Inner Mongolia is still living under poor conditions and their main concern is to improve living standards, achieve higher income and gain access to the local markets to sell their products. Thus, reflections upon environment or sustainability are of a lower priority. ← 2 | 3 → Furthermore, the possibilities for these farmers to invest in good quality seed, fertilizer and crop protection or chemical treatments are limited. These difficulties may altogether result in the destruction of natural resources as well as overuse and infertile soils, especially through the improper use of pesticides and fertilizers.

2. Economic pressure causes environmental problems – How can Inner Mongolia address this problem?

Inner Mongolia’s agricultural productivity is in stagnation due to a lack of sufficient available arable land and an increasing population and demand for products. The factor preventing the increase of productivity is the current situation facing Inner Mongolian farmers. Mainly the smallholders cultivating the land, without access to technological innovations, which are practicing an underdeveloped tillage culture and show little commitment to the business of farming. This has a direct impact on the environment and causes a domino-effect. Thus, environmental degradation will increase as long as agriculture is resource extracting and not sustainable in terms of profitability. The ecological situation of China, specifically an increase of arid and semi-arid areas which are less suitable for intensive agriculture, leads to additional pressure on the limited arable land. As a consequence, the problem of exhausted soils and degradation of cultivated land will rise as well. Therefore China must modernize its agricultural production in order to guarantee productivity growth and sustainable management of its fragile ecology.

Looking back on a history characterized by in-migration processes the Inner Mongolian agriculture arose out of Han-Chinese tillers, who started the cultivation of the fertile pastures. The Han-Chinese influence has created a melting pot of Han-Mongolian co-existence in both agriculture and animal husbandry. Today neither the nomadic lifestyle (Mongolian), nor farming household (Han-Chinese) are distinguishable from its ethnic background. ← 3 | 4 →


XLIV, 244
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
Pro-Environmental Behavior Environmental Awareness Grasland ecology Sustainable agriculture Potato Cultivation Animal Husbandry
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. XLIV, 243 pp., 40 fig. col., 2 fig. b/w, 22 tables

Biographical notes

Cilia Neumann (Author)

Cilia Neumann studied sinology and ethnology at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, where she works as a lecturer at the chair of East Asian History.


Title: The Dilemma of China's Dryland Agriculture in Inner Mongolia
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