The relationship between urban sprawl and farmland displacement in the Pearl River Delta, China

Shiqiang Du, Peijun Shi*, Anton van Rompaey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


China is rapidly urbanizing and will inevitably face trade-offs between promoting economic growth through further urbanization and protecting fertile farmland against accelerated urban expansion. This paper presents how this dilemma is being addressed in one of the most rapidly urbanizing regions in China, the Pearl River Delta (PRD), by means of assessing urban growth and farmland dynamic, as well as their complex relationships. Land use maps derived from Landsat imagery for 1990, 2000 and 2010 show a process of accelerated urban sprawl whereby built-up lands have more than quadrupled and scattered centers have merged into megacities. Nonetheless, the land use efficiency is considerably low and is declining relative to Hong Kong and Macau with respect to urban population density. On the other hand, the spreading of urban areas on farmlands causes new farmland reclamation and accelerated deforestation in the hilly surroundings. In addition, the displaced farmlands do not ensure food production because of both reclaiming farmlands on infertile lands and diversifying farming activities from grain production to market-oriented ones. The accelerated urbanization and farmland displacement are driven by profit-oriented development strategy and ineffective land use planning. Our findings demonstrate how spatial analysis can help to investigate the integrated effects of land policies on landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-51
Number of pages18
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Farmland protection
  • Landscape index
  • Spatial analysis
  • Urban sprawl


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