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Who determines the trade-offs between agricultural production and environmental quality? An evolutionary perspective from rural eastern China: A rural case study from eastern China

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

John A. Dearing, Ke Zhang, Weidong Cao, Terence P. Dawson, David Armstrong McKay, Paul Sillitoe, Richard Treves, Xiangrong Yang

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-366
Number of pages20
JournalInternational journal of agricultural sustainability
Issue number5
Early online date19 Sep 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Sep 2019

King's Authors


We explore the evolutionary nature of interactions between government policy, farm decision-making and ecosystem services in Shucheng County, Anhui Province, 1950–2015. Analyses of ecological, social and economic trends are complemented by interviews with local farmers. Since the Household Responsibility System started in 1980, there has been a trade-off between rising levels of provisioning services and falling levels of regulating services with evidence that critical thresholds have been passed for water quality. Using a Framework for Ecosystem Service Provision, we argue that farmers have acted only as ecosystem service providers and have not influenced the policies that have brought about the trade-offs. Over the period, ecological degradation is best described as an example of ‘creeping normalcy’ where cumulative conventional actions by individual farmers produce unsustainable losses in regulating services. The Chinese government should act to balance the various ecosystem services through valuation and national policy. In this respect, there is a need for agencies that can provide place-based advice to farmers that will allow them to maintain productivity levels while pursuing restorative actions. Even with new policies, the draw of urban employment, high production costs and an ageing population threaten the viability of farming in these marginal agricultural areas.

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