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Is “Family Farms” the Way to Develop Chinese Agriculture? (“家庭农场”是中国农业的发展出路吗?)

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Early in 2013 China’s Party Central sounded the call for developing so-called “family farms.” A great deal of discussion ensued, in which the dominant view has been to call for developing scale economies in “family farming” through greatly increased transfers of land, in the belief that large-scale farms would help raise both labor and land productivity. The slogan used, “family farms,” is borrowed from American rhetoric and reflects the way American agriculture is mistakenly imagined by many people. This article demonstrates that such a vision runs counter to the logic shown by the history of agricultural modernization throughout the world. It mistakenly tries to force China’s reality of “lots of people and little land” into an American model predicated on its opposite of “lots of land and few people,” and it mistakenly tries to apply economic concepts based on the industrial machine age to agriculture. The vision/policy is also based on a misunderstanding of the realities of contemporary American agriculture, which has long since come to be dominated by agribusiness. The determinative logic in American agricultural modernization has been to economize on labor, in contrast to the path of modernizing development that has already taken hold in practice in Chinese agriculture of the past 30 years, in which the dominant logic has been to save on land, not labor, in what I term “labor and capital dual intensifying” “small and fine” agriculture. The American “big and coarse” “model” is in reality utterly inappropriate for Chinese agriculture. It also runs counter to the insights of the deep and weighty tradition of scholarship and theorizing about genuine peasant family farming. The correct path for Chinese agricultural development is the appropriately scaled, “small and fine” genuine family farms that have already arisen quite widely in the past 30 years.This article is in English.中共中央于2013年年初提出要发展“家庭农场”,之后全国讨论沸沸扬扬,其中的主流意见特别强调推进家庭农场的规模化,提倡土地的大量流转,以为借此可以同时提高劳动和土地生产率。其所用的口号“家庭农场”是来自美国的修辞,背后是对美国农业的想象。本文论证,这是个不符合世界农业经济史所展示的农业现代化经济逻辑的设想,它错误地试图硬套“地多人少”的美国模式于“人多地少”的中国,错误地使用来自机器时代的经济学于农业,亟需改正。它也是对当今早已由企业型大农场主宰的美国农业经济实际的误解。美国农业现代化模式的主导逻辑是节省劳动力,而中国过去三十年来已经走出来的“劳动和资本双密集化”小而精模式的关键则在节省土地。美国模式不符合当前中国农业的实际,更不符合具有厚重传统的关于真正的小农经济家庭农场的理论洞见。中国近30年来已经相当广泛兴起的适度“小而精”规模的真正家庭农场才是中国农业正确的发展出路。


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