Sustainable Ecological Agriculture in China: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice

by Tian Shi


Sustainable agricultural development has become one of the most popular research topics globally in the recent decades. Its primary goal is to develop farming systems that simultaneously promote three key areas (farm profits, agro-ecosystems, and local communities) and to consider trade-offs among them. This alternative perspective has challenged the core values of economic growth as well as the domination of nature in conventional agriculture.

As sustainable agricultural development has increasingly become an international trend in recent years, a focus on the analysis and management of its practical dimensions is imperative. This book will examine these dimensions in the context of Chinese ecological agriculture. Seeking out ways to achieve agricultural sustainability is now a focus point for agricultural researchers, government leaders, and policy makers, and it has been given top–priority status on the research and policy agendas of most countries.

The current ecological agricultural development in China is the result of a long-term planning system and the outcome of a number of market principles that have been introduced in the last three decades. There is an immediate need to carry out an extensive study of the present status of ecological agriculture to sustain its further development, especially the multidisciplinary documentation and diagnosis of the strengths and weaknesses of China’s development strategy for ecological agriculture. In the past, analyses were predominantly based on isolated disciplinary approaches. It is now necessary to bridge the areas of biology, ecology, sociology, and economics for a trans-disciplinary ecological economics perspective in order to identify the advantages and disadvantages of ecological agriculture.

Ecological agriculture can be regarded as an attempt to realize sustainability in a dynamic agricultural context. In operationalising the concept of sustainable development in agriculture, problems arise because different frameworks of analysis and different methods of assessment are employed in research and practice. In many cases, the sustainability debate has not provided any clear indications about how to modify current agricultural development towards sustainable outcomes. One of the main reasons for the existence of the gap between the rhetoric and the practice of agricultural sustainability is the conflict between the need for implementing long-term research (which is particularly important in an ecological-economic integrated context) and the constraints posed by short-term research funding and methodological difficulties. The current overall perception of the problem is replete with ambiguities and is too constrained by discipline boundaries. This thus calls for a conceptual shift, which recognizes that economic, ecological, and social issues are inextricably linked and therefore must be considered together.

In contrast to past research that focused only on better descriptions and analyses, the main task of ecological agricultural research is to further improve its practice as a sustainable system. In other words, it is inevitably faced with the challenge of balancing costs and benefits between contemporary and future generations to justify policy actions toward sustainability, thereby requiring the research to be of a problem-oriented nature.

Ecological economics emphasizes the two-way interdependencies between the micro and macro levels. Although the questions about ecological agricultural research arise from the local level, their answers may lie at higher levels within the realm of political economy. Therefore, it requires substantial research not only on the links between local production systems and the larger national economy, political structures, and decision-making processes, but also the role and limitations of the national and local authorities in policy development and implementation.

There is also scant research on Chinese ecological agriculture published in English. This book helps fill the void.

It employs a trans-disciplinary approach to investigate the connection and discrepancy between knowledge and actions. It presents methodological perspectives and practical suggestions for the comprehensive analysis of ecological agriculture as inputs to improved agricultural policy-making for sustainability practices. In this way, this book illuminates the possibility of bridging the gap between local level implementation and the larger political-economic processes. This book helpfully provides a comprehensive analytical framework within which agricultural sustainability can be better analyzed and understood by articulating ecological economics as a policy science to guarantee transparency and fairness in the decision-making process . It shows the important role that traditional culture can play in promoting ecologically and socially sound development. It further emphasizes the imperative to move the ideology of ecological agriculture into the political realm and promotes a continuous dialogue between researchers, practitioners, and policy makers. It also suggests that local government has a significant role to play in establishing appropriate institutional arrangements and policy settings (e.g., bottom-up policy initiatives) for sustainable ecological agricultural development. By elaborating on the methodological synthesis of ecological economics and system dynamics modeling as a holistic approach to facilitate an improved policy-making process for agricultural sustainability, this book demonstrates the effectiveness of this alternative approach to improve policy making process and facilitate the realization of sustainability through a case study in China.

This book will be an important resource not only to those interested in China, but also to scholars and policy makers around the world because of its global relevance in the areas of ecological economics, ecological agriculture, sustainable resource management, political economy, system dynamics thinking and modeling, and participation in the policy-making process.


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