Do Big Farms Offer Better Lives and Environment than Small Ones?

Greg Howard
24th February, 2024

Do Big Farms Offer Better Lives and Environment than Small Ones?

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

In the quest to feed a growing global population, the debate over the best agricultural practices continues to evolve. A recent study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences[1] has shed light on the effectiveness of different farming models in China, particularly focusing on new agricultural business entities (NABEs) versus traditional small households. This research is crucial as it not only examines the economic outcomes of these two farming approaches but also their environmental impacts and potential for sustainable development. The study utilized a sustainable livelihood framework and a multiple linear regression model to analyze the livelihood outcomes of 105 NABEs and 119 traditional small households in the Sichuan Basin. The findings revealed that NABEs, on average, have a 1.40 times higher livelihood level than traditional small households. This suggests that NABEs, which are larger and often more modernized farming operations, may provide a more robust economic return. Interestingly, the study also found that NABEs engaging in a mixed livelihood strategy, combining both planting and breeding, achieved the highest livelihood levels. This diversification appears to offer a buffer against economic fluctuations, a principle that can be applied to various scales of agriculture. However, the study also highlighted a concerning aspect of NABEs: they use significantly more pesticides and herbicides—2.06 times more—than traditional small households. This raises questions about the environmental sustainability of their practices, especially considering the already known trade-offs between agricultural productivity and environmental impacts[2]. The previous research[2] emphasized that while crop switching and optimization can lead to substantial benefits in terms of environmental impact reductions and farmer incomes, it requires careful coordination to avoid negative trade-offs. The current study also identified several factors influencing the livelihood levels of both NABEs and traditional small households, including education level, technical training, financial accessibility, and connections with professional cooperatives. For NABEs, additional factors such as the age of the leaders, per capita planting area, and agricultural insurance were significant. The risk of poverty remains a concern, with about 3.13% of all agricultural entities in the study area at risk of falling into poverty. Subsidized households, pure farmers, and part-time farming households face the greatest risk levels. This underscores the need for targeted policy interventions to support these vulnerable groups. Based on these insights, the study proposes a balanced approach to agricultural development. While recognizing the higher livelihood levels associated with NABEs and non-farming households, the researchers recommend fostering a balance between supporting NABEs and preserving traditional small households. They also call for guidance on green agriculture production for NABEs to mitigate the environmental costs of their higher chemical input use. The findings from the Chinese Academy of Sciences contribute to the ongoing dialogue about sustainable agriculture by providing empirical evidence on the economic and environmental dimensions of different farming models. They suggest that while NABEs may offer economic advantages, their environmental footprint cannot be overlooked. This aligns with earlier research[2] that advocates for an integrated approach to agricultural interventions, one that harmonizes productivity with sustainability. In conclusion, the study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences offers a nuanced view of agriculture in China, highlighting the potential of NABEs to improve livelihoods while also pointing to the need for sustainable practices. It builds on previous findings[2] by providing a more detailed understanding of the trade-offs involved in agricultural modernization and the importance of coordinated policy efforts. As China and the world grapple with the challenge of sustainable food production, such research is invaluable in informing policies that balance economic growth with environmental stewardship.



Main Study

1) Do large-scale agricultural entities achieve higher livelihood levels and better environmental outcomes than small households? Evidence from rural China.

Published 22nd February, 2024

Related Studies

2) Crop switching can enhance environmental sustainability and farmer incomes in China.

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