China’s Path in Developing Organic Agriculture: Opportunities and Implications for Small-scale Farmers and Rural Development
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With the growing awareness of food safety and environmental sustainability, organic agriculture is developing rapidly worldwide. Previous studies on the issue of organic agriculture and small-scale farms have mainly focused on the feasibility and profitability of organic small-scale production in broad terms. The extent and type of involvement of small-scale farmers in organic farming and the implications for small-scale farmers have not been systematically examined. This study provides an empirically grounded analysis of these issues using the case of China’s organic agriculture sector. In the Global North, organic agriculture was initiated by small-scale farmers and non-government organizations. Over time, the organic sector in some areas has been conventionalized, and has been criticized for eroding broad social and environmental values of organic farming as an alternative to conventional farming practices. China has shown a different path in developing organic agriculture. The initial development of certified organic agriculture in China was driven by the export market through contract farming. This is a common pattern for the development of organic agriculture in many countries of the Global South. With rising demand from middle class Chinese consumers for safe and high quality food since the 2000s, organic marketing channels for the domestic market have emerged. Meanwhile, models of farm ownership structure are diversifying. I argue that the diversification of ownership structure of organic farms provided more opportunities for small-scale farms to engage in and benefit from this sector. Based on 66 in-depth interviews with stakeholders in China’s organic sector, this dissertation addresses the following three issues. First, I characterize the development of the organic agriculture sector in China in terms of ownership structure and government roles. My research revealed a co-existence of diverse ownership structures in China’s organic agriculture sector, including the contract farming model, the farmers’ professional cooperative model, and the private company land-leasing model. The Chinese government has played a more facilitating role in the organic sector in the 2000s and more recently rather than intervening directly in this sector at the initial stage. I argue that the diversification of ownership structure in China’s organic agriculture sector has been shaped by China’s political economy in the 2000s, including a developed rural land rental market, agrarian transformation toward agro-industrialization and vertical integration, expansion of the domestic organic market, and an emerging civil society. Second, this research examines the type and extent of involvement of small-scale farmers in China’s organic agricultural sector to better understand to the social and economic impacts of organic agriculture on small-scale farms. Based on the fieldwork, I characterize three major models of ownership structures in China’s organic agriculture sector. Applying a three-tiered equity framework - equity in access, in decision-making, and in outcome - I examine the equity implications for small-scale farmers among these three models. I find that all these models have played important roles in linking family farms to value-added markets and increasing farmers’ income. The results of my study, however, reveal that the independent farmers’ cooperative model showed a stronger inclusion of small farming households in terms of participating in decision-making and providing them with more autonomy compared with the other two enterprise models. In addition, this research found that farmers in the cooperative model showed a better understanding of organic agriculture and a stronger commitment to environmental sustainable development in their daily operations than those in the enterprise models. Third, this research further examined how and to what extent the independent farmers’ cooperative model can benefit small farmers and contribute to rural development in China. I evaluated three farmers’ cooperatives in China. Applying the “deepening-broadening-regrounding” typology proposed by van der Ploeg, Long, and Banks (2002), this research found that farmers’ professional cooperatives have made make important economic, social, and environmental contributions to rural development by adopting alternative strate¬gies and activities. At the same time, these coop¬eratives face significant challenges for further devel-opment, which explains why cooperatives are not more widespread in China. This study offers new insights into the roles of farmers’ cooperatives and government in rural development. This exploratory study contributes to our understanding of the complexity and diversity of the organic agricultural development within various socioeconomic contexts and sheds light on the potential trajectories for emerging economies in the Global South with a large and growing domestic market. This research provides insights regarding the future of small-scale farmers in China and strategies that link them to wider markets, especially value-added markets. This study also contributes to our understanding of agrarian transformation toward sustainable rural development by highlighting government roles in developing organic agriculture and supporting farmers’ cooperatives.