Impacts of Non-farm Employment of Rural Laborers on Agricultural Land Use: Theoretical Analysis and Its Policy Implications

  • 1. Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, Beijing 100012, China;
    2. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China;
    3. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China

Received date: 2017-08-24

  Revised date: 2017-10-20

  Online published: 2017-11-30

Supported by

National Natural Science Foundation of China (41501095)


During rapid urbanization and industrialization process, non-farm employment of rural laborers has emerged as a prevalent phenomenon in rural areas of China and become an important driving factor for changes in agricultural land use. This article attempts to theoretically analyze the impacts of non-farm employment of rural laborers on agricultural land use based on economic frameworks. As rational agents, farmers aim to maximize their income and follow equilibrium principles when they decide how to allocate their labor forces (or working time) in two departments (farm and non-farm) and how to use their agricultural land with different quality and location. The income earned by non-farm employment is higher, and there exists a comparative advantage between labors, as a result the quantity and quality of labor input in agricultural land use decreases. With the limitation of labor input during agricultural land use decision-making of farm households, on the one hand, land with higher quality is still utilized by farmers. On the other hand, poor quality land will be less well managed and is more likely to be abandoned. Non-farm employment of rural laborers and the rising of opportunity costs will result in abandonment of poor quality land, and great importance should be attached to this by policy makers.

Cite this article

HAO Haiguang, LI Xiubin, XIN Liangjie . Impacts of Non-farm Employment of Rural Laborers on Agricultural Land Use: Theoretical Analysis and Its Policy Implications[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2017 , 8(6) : 595 -604 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2017.06.005


1 Alonso W. 1964. Location and land use: Toward a general theory of land rent. Hardcover: Harvard University Press.
2 Barlowe R. 1985. Land resource economics: The economics of real estate. 4th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
3 Benayas J R, Martins A, Nicolau J M, et al . 2007. Abandonment of agricultural land: an overview of drivers and consequences. CAB Reviews Perspectives in Agriculture Veterinary Science Nutrition and Natural Resources, 2(57): 1-14.
4 Beyene A D. 2008. Determinants of off-farm participation decision of farm households in Ethiopia. Agrekon, 47(1): 140-161.
5 Bonet A, Pausas J G. 2004. Species richness and cover along a 60-year chronosequence in old-fields of southeastern Spain. Plant Ecology , 174 (2): 257-270.
6 Cerda A. 1997. Soil erosion after land abandonment in a semiarid environment of southeastern Spain. Arid Soil Research and Rehabilitation , 11(2): 163-176.
7 Chen Y Q, Li X B, Tian Y J, et al . 2009. Structural change of agricultural land use intensity and its regional disparity in China. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 19(5): 545-556.
8 Chen Y Q, Li X B, Zhu H Y. 2008. Factors related to changes in sown area of major crops in Zhejiang Province. Resources Science , 30(4): 609-614. (in Chinese)
9 Department of Household Surveys National Bureau of Statistics of China. 2015. China Yearbook of Household Survey 2015. Beijing: China Statistics Press.
10 Díaz G I, Nahuelhual L, Echeverría C, et al . 2011. Drivers of landabandonment in Southern Chile and implications for landscape planning. Landscape and Urban Planning , 99(3-4): 207-217.
11 Doorn A M V, Bakker M M. 2007. The destination of arable land in a marginal agricultural landscape in South Portugal: an exploration of land use change determinants. Landscape Ecology , 22(7):1073-1087.
12 Duarte F, Jones N, Fleskens L. 2008. Traditional olive orchards on sloping land: Sustainability or abandonment? Journal of Environmental Management , 89(2): 86-98.
13 Dunn R R. 2004. Recovery of faunal communities during tropical forest regeneration. Conservation Biology , 18(2): 302-309.
14 Gallart F, Llorens P. 2003, Catchment management under environmental change:impact of land cover change on water resources. Water International , 28(3): 334-340.
15 Gellrich M, Baur P, Koch B, et al . 2007. Agricultural land abandonment and natural forest re-growth in the Swiss mountains: A spatially explicit economic analysis. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment , 118(1): 93- 108.
16 Gersovitz M (eds). 1983. Selected economic writings of W. Arthur Lewis. New York: New York University Press.
17 Grau H R, Aide T M. 2007. Are rural-urban migration and sustainable development compatible in mountain systems? Mountain Research and Development , 27(2): 119-123.
18 Gray C L. 2009. Environment, land, and rural out-migration in the southern Ecuadorian Andes. World Development , 37(2): 457-468.
19 Groom B, Grosjean P, Kontoleon A, et al . 2010. Relaxing rural constraints: a 'win-win' policy for poverty and environment in China? Oxford Economic Papers-New Series , 62(1): 132-156.
20 Hailu Y G, Rosenberger R S. 2004. Modeling migration effects on agricultural lands: A growth equilibrium model. Agricultural and Resource Economics Review , 33(1): 50-60.
21 Hao H, Li X, Tan M, et al . 2015. Agricultural land use intensity and its determinants: A case study in Taibus Banner, Inner Mongolia, China. Frontiers of Earth Science , 9(2): 308-318.
22 Hao H, Li X, Tian Y, et al . 2010. Farmland use right transfer and its driving factors in agro-pastoral interlaced region. Transactions of the Chinese Society of Agricultural Engineering , 26(8): 302-307. (in Chinese)
23 Hao H, Li X, Zhang J. 2013. Impacts of part-time farming on agricultural land use in ecologically-vulnerable areas in North China. Journal of Resources and Ecology , 4(1): 70-79.
24 Hao H, Zhang J, Li X, et al . 2015. Impact of livelihood diversification of rural households on their ecological footprint in agro-pastoral areas of northern China. Journal of Arid Land , 7(5): 653-664.
25 Hua X, Yan J, Wang Q, et al . 2013. Comparative analysis on influencing factors of cultivated land use intensity in valley and middle mountain area of upper Dadu River watershed. Transactions of the Chinese Society of Agricultural Engineering , 29(20): 234-244. (in Chinese)
26 Hua X, Yan J, Zhou C, et al . 2013. Marginalization of agricultural land use in hilly areas and its explanation from the livelihood strategy of farmers: A case study on Youyang County. Acta Scientiarum Naturalium Universitatis Pekinensis , 49(6):1047-1055.
27 Huang J K, Wu Y H, Rozelle S. 2009. Moving off the farm and intensifying agricultural production in Shandong: a case study of rural labor market linkages in China. Agricultural Economics , 40(2): 203-218.
28 Huang L M, Liu C W. 2010. Marginalization of arable land and its correlation with rural labor migration - A case of Tongcheng County, Hubei Province, China. Asian Agricultural Research , 2(2): 6-9.
29 Izquierdo A E, Grau H R and Aide T M. 2011. Implications of rural-urban migration for conservation of the Atlantic Forest and urban growth in Misiones, Argentina (1970-2030). Ambio , 40(3): 298-309.
30 Kilic T, Carletto C, Miluka J, et al . 2009. Rural nonfarm income and its impact on agriculture: evidence from Albania. Agricultural Economics , 40(2): 139-160.
31 Li M, Zhao L G. 2009a. Agricultural labor force aging phenomenon and the effect on agricultural production: Evidence from Liaoning Province. Issues in Agricultural Economy , 30(10): 12-18. (in Chinese)
32 Li M, Zhao L G. 2009b. Agricultural labor force feminine phenomenon and the effect on agricultural production: Evidence from Liaoning Province. Chinese Rural Economy , 25(5): 61-69. (in Chinese)
33 Li S, Sun Z, Tan M, et al . 2016. Effects of rural - urban migration on vegetation greenness in fragile areas: A case study of Inner Mongolia in China. Journal of Geographical Sciences , 26(3): 313-324.
34 Li X B, Hao H G, Ran S H, et al . 2010. Management transition of the ecological building in China and its demand for science and technology innovations. Acta Ecologica Sinica , 30(12): 3340-3345. (in Chinese)
35 Li X B, Zhao Y L. 2011. Forest transition, agricultural land marginalization andecological restoration. China Population, Resources and Environment , 21(10): 91-95. (in Chinese).
36 Li X Y, Cai Y Y, Zhu D L, et al . 2006. Agricultural land loss in China’s urbanization process. Ecological Economy , 2(1): 32-41.
37 Li X. 1998. Measurement of rapid agriculture land loss in the Pearl River Delta with the integration of remote sensing and GIS. Environment & Planning B Planning & Design , 25(3): 447-461.
38 Li Z, Yan J, Hua X, et al . 2014. Factors influencing the cultivated land abandonment of households of different types: a case study of 12 typical villages in Chongqing Municipality. Geographical Research , 33(4): 721-734.
39 Liu L. 2000. Labor location and agricultural land use in Jilin, China. Professional Geographer , 52(1): 74-83.
40 Low A. 1986. Agricultural development in southern Africa: farm-household economics and the food crisis. London: James Currey.
41 Macdonald D, Crabtree J R, Wiesinger G, et al . 2000. Agricultural abandonment in mountain areas of Europe: Environmental consequences and policy response. Journal of Environmental Management , 59(1): 47- 69.
42 Morera M C, Gladwin C H. 2006. Does off-farm work discourage soil conservation? Incentives and disincentives throughout wo Honduran hillside communities. Human Ecology , 34(3): 355-378.
43 National Bureau of Statistics of China. 2015. China statistical yearbook 2015. Beijing: China Statistics Press.
44 Oseni G, Winters P. 2009. Rural nonfarm activities and agricultural crop production in Nigeria. Agricultural Economics , 40(2): 189-201.
45 Phimister E, Roberts D. 2006. The effect of off-farm work on the intensity of agricultural production. Environmental & Resource Economics , 34 (4): 493-515.
46 Poyatos R, Latron J, Llorens P. 2003. Land use and land cover change after agricultural abandonment - The case of a Mediterranean Mountain Area (Catalan Pre-Pyrenees). Mountain Research and Development , 23(4): 362-368.
47 Prishchepov A V, Müller D, Dubinin M, et al. 2013. Determinants of agricultural land abandonment in post-Soviet European Russia. Land Use Policy , 30(1): 873-884.
48 Renwick A, Jansson T, Verburg P H, et al. 2013. Policy reform and agricultural land abandonment in the EU. Land Use Policy , 30(1): 446- 457.
49 Rudel T K, Coomes O T, Moran E, et al. 2005. Forest transitions: Towards a global understanding of land use change. Global Environmental Change , 15(1): 23-31.
50 Schultz T W. 1964. Transforming traditional agricultural. New Haven: Yale University Press.
51 Shao J, Zhang S, Li X. 2016. Effectiveness of farmland transfer in alleviating farmland abandonment in mountain regions. Journal of Geographical Sciences , 26(2): 203-218.
52 Sileika A S, Stålnacke P, Kutra S, et al. 2006. Temporal and Spatial Variation of Nutrient Levels in the Nemunas River (Lithuania and
53 Belarus). Environmental Monitoring & Assessment , 122(1-3): 335-354.
54 Song A M, Yang Z H. Xu Q K. 2008. Soil erosion control in Anyang County after the reform of rural tax and fee. Soil and Water Conservation in China , 29(10: 53-54. (in Chinese)
55 Strijker D. 2005. Marginal lands in Europe-causes of decline. Basic & Applied Ecology , 6(2): 99-106.
56 Sun G, Zhou G, Zhang Z, et al. 2006. Potential water yield reduction due to forestation across China. Journal of Hydrology , 328(3-4): 548-558.
57 Upton M. 1976. Agricultural production economics and resource-use. London: Oxford University Press.
58 Wang C, Yang Y, Zhang Y. 2011. Economic Development, Rural livelihoods, and Ecological Restoration: Evidence from China. Ambio , 40(1): 78-87.
59 Xie H, Liu G. 2015. Spatiotemporal differences and influencing factors of multiple cropping index in China during 1998-2012. Journal of Geographical Sciences , 25(11): 1283-1297.
60 Xin L J, Li X B. 2009. Changes of multiple cropping in double cropping rice area of Southern China and its policy implications. Journal of Natural Resources , 24(1): 58-65. (in Chinese)
61 Yamada S, Okubo S, Kitagawa Y, et al. 2007. Restoration of weed communities in abandoned rice paddy fields in the Tama Hills, central Japan. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment , 119(1-2): 88-102.
62 Yan H M, Liu J Y, Cao M K. 2005. Remotely sensed multiple cropping index variations in China during 1981-2000. Journal of Geographical Sciences , 60(4): 559-566. (in Chinese)
63 Yan J, Yang Z, Li Z, et al. 2016. Drivers of cropland abandonment in mountainous areas: A household decision model on farming scale in Southwest China. Land Use Policy , 57(30): 459-469.
64 Yeh A G O, Li X. 1999. Economic development and agricultural land loss in the Pearl River Delta, China. Habitat International , 23(3): 373-390.
65 Zhang G, Liu J, Zhang Z. 2003. Spatial-temporal changes of cropland in China for the past 10 years based on remote sensing. Journal of Geographical Sciences , 58(3): 323-332. (in Chinese)
66 Zhang L, Zhang Y, Yan J, et al. 2008. Livelihood diversification and cropland use pattern in agro-pastoral mountainous region of eastern Tibetan Plateau. Journal of Geographical Sciences , 18(4): 499-509.
67 Zhang Y, Li X, Song W. 2014. Determinants of cropland abandonment at the parcel, household and village levels in mountain areas of China: A multi-level analysis. Land Use Policy , 41(4): 186-192.
68 Zhao Y, Zhang M, Li X, et al . 2016. Farmland marginalization and policy implications in mountainous areas: a case study of Renhuai City, Guizhou. Journal of Resources & Ecology , 7(1): 61-67.