Can China's overuse of fertilizer be reduced without threatening food security and farm incomes?

C. F.A. van Wesenbeeck*, M. A. Keyzer, W. C.M. van Veen, H. Qiu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


CONTEXT: Since 1980, China has made impressive progress in increasing agricultural production, improving food security and reducing rural poverty. Increased use of chemical fertilizer has played a vital role in this, but presently fertilizer overuse is posing severe challenges for the environment and human health. In response to this, the Chinese government has announced policies to reduce chemical fertilizer use, while at the same time supporting rural incomes and maintaining food self-sufficiency in major grains. OBJECTIVE: The objective of the paper is to assess the effectiveness of these policies in reducing the nutrient surpluses, maintaining food self-sufficiency and supporting rural incomes throughout China. METHODS: We use a spatially and socially detailed general equilibrium model of the Chinese economy to simulate the potential impact of these policies on agricultural production, environmental pollution and rural incomes. The scenarios are developed in a step-wise fashion to show the contribution of specific measures included in the policies. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Our main results are that nitrate surpluses can be reduced by more than 50% and phosphate surpluses even by more than 75% without significant negative impacts on China's food self-sufficiency, provided that the government adopts appropriate policy combinations. At the same time, the income of the average crop farmer goes up slightly compared to the business-as-usual scenario. However, the spatial variability is large, requiring supplementary targeted income support measures, particularly in poverty-stricken provinces like Shaanxi, Chongqing, Guizhou and Yunnan where also the income gains of the new policies are below average. SIGNIFICANCE: The results show that appropriate policy combinations should address both the efficiency of chemical fertilizer use and the intensity of organic fertilizer use. Hence, substantial efforts are necessary in mobilizing stakeholder involvement in implementing the policies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103093
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalAgricultural Systems
Early online date9 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Lia van Wesenbeeck, Michiel Keyzer and Wim van Veen did not receive any specific grant for the research in this article from funding agencies in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors. Huanguang Qiu acknowledges the support of the National Science Foundation of China ( 71761147004 , 42061124002 ). The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s)

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Agricultural modeling
  • China
  • Environmental policy
  • Food self-sufficiency
  • Rural development
  • Sustainable agriculture


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