Cultivated Land Resources and Land Use

Farmer-based Rice Cropping Systems in the Poyang Lake Region, China: Analysis of Characteristics and Policy Implications

  • Khampheng BOUDMYXAY , 1, 2, 3 ,
  • LI Peng , 1, 2, 3, * ,
  • XIAO Chiwei 1, 2, 3 ,
  • SHEN Lei 1, 2, 3 ,
  • ZHONG Shuai 1, 2, 3
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  • 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  • 2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • 3. Laos-China Joint Research Center for Resources and Environment, Vientiane Capital 7864, Lao PDR
*Corresponding author: LI Peng, E-mail:

First author: Khampheng BOUDMYXAY, E-mail:

Received date: 2018-11-26

  Accepted date: 2019-01-30

  Online published: 2019-05-30

Supported by

The Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA23100202)

International Partnership Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences (131A11KYSB20170117)

Consultation and Evaluation Project of the Academic Divisions of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2017ZWH018A-042)

Special Project of Lancang-Mekong River Cooperation of the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China “Agricultural Resources and Environmental Survey with Information Platform Construction in Lancang-Mekong River Basin”

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Abstract

This paper examines the spatial characteristics of farmer/household behaviors in regional rice cropping systems (RCS), and the results provide necessary information for developing strategies that will maintain regional food security. Through field study and statistical analysis based on 402 households questionnaires finished in 2014-2015 in the Poyang Lake Region (PLR) of China, we arrived at two main conclusions. First, single- and double cropping rice were found across the study area, but showed a general distribution trend, with double cropping rice in the southeast part (especially in Jinxian county) and single cropping rice in the northwest (particularly in De’an county). Second, the household decisions concerning RCS varied in different parts of the PLR, but double cropping was the dominant type, with about 63.57% of the respondent households in the PLR cultivating double cropping rice. However, the multiple-cropping index of paddy rice was only 1.55. About 3% of interviewed households had altered their RCS during this period. Based on these findings, the local governments should guide farmers’ paddy field cultivation behaviors by increasing the comparative efficiency of rice production, promoting appropriate scale operations and land conversion, as well as optimizing rice growing conditions to improve the multiple cropping index and enhance food provision. Finally, land-use efficiency and more sustainable use of land resources should be improved.

Cite this article

Khampheng BOUDMYXAY , LI Peng , XIAO Chiwei , SHEN Lei , ZHONG Shuai . Farmer-based Rice Cropping Systems in the Poyang Lake Region, China: Analysis of Characteristics and Policy Implications[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2019 , 10(3) : 256 -264 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764X.2019.03.003

In March 2016, the main government document focusing on “agriculture, rural areas and farmers” proposed that: “By 2020, significant progress will have been made in modernizing agricultural construction, grain production capacity will have been further consolidated and improved, and the national food security and supply of important agricultural products will have been effectively guaranteed”. In the 13 years prior to that proclamation, since 2004, the central government has implemented the document’s policies on farmers, rural areas and agriculture, thus highlighting the importance of food production. Food security issues concern both the national economy and people’s livelihoods, so they are the foundation for the steady development of society and the economy (Feng et al., 2002; Xiao et al., 2015). Rice, as one of the three most important food crops in China, plays a fundamental role in ensuring our nation’s food security (Li et al., 2012). In China, the population is increasing while agricultural land is dwindling; and there is abundant light and heat, but they are unevenly distributed. Intensive farming practices would play an important role in improving China’s grain yield and ensuring national food security. The main government documents and other agricultural policies have already promoted steady increase in grain production. However, with the continuous adjustment of China’s agricultural structure, regional differences in farmland occupation, abandonment and growth changes are becoming more and more serious, causing changes to the rice planting system, which have impacts on regional and even national food security (Li et al., 2015; Liang et al., 2009; Fu et al., 2001).
The land is the basis for the survival and development of human society and it is one of the most fundamental needs of agricultural production (Kong et al., 2007). As the most basic decision-making unit, farmers ultimately determine whether land resources are rationally employed through individual choices regarding the land use types and intensities (Zhong and Huang, 2007; Liu and Lv, 2015). Rice cultivation utilizes paddy fields in one of two ways in most of China, either double cropping rice (early rice and late rice, or both) or single cropping rice (or middle rice) (Cheng and Li, 2007). As the main determinant of rice cropping systems (RCS), farmers are driven by the market and their own economic interests on the one hand, but they are also restricted by the external natural environment of the farmland on the other (Li et al., 2015), so they respond with a variety of behavioral choices for their use of paddy fields. “What” are the most important questions that farmers generally consider? How to balance as well? In areas with varied levels of economic development and natural resource endowment, the decisions of individual farmers can be quite different. Therefore, the farmers become the key factor in the study of RCS decision-making behavior, which is of great significance for improving the multiple cropping index (MCI) and enhancing the regional food supply.
Until now, scholars have carried out a great deal of research on RCS, by monitoring cropping systems (Liu et al., 2016; Li et al., 2014; Li et al., 2016), decision-making factors (Xu and Mao, 2009; Li, 2010; Chen et al., 2011) and changes in the driving mechanisms (Li et al., 2015; Liu et al., 2012). A number of conclusions have arisen from their discussions. As human activities intensify, the intervention in land use, especially since the implementation of the household contract responsibility system, indicates that the decision-making of farmers at the micro level has gradually become the main driver of changes. However, the existing research on the policies for stabilizing food security and increasing MCI lacks targeted and in-depth empirical analyses at farmers level.
With the development of social economy, a large number of agricultural areas have been transformed into urban construction land. In recent years, with the development of large and medium-sized cities such as Nanchang and Jiujiang, and frequent changes of high and low water-level of Poyang Lake, agriculture in the Poyang Lake Plain is faced with major transitions, such as changes of cropping systems and the cropland abandonment (Li et al., 2015). The regional rice planting pattern in the Poyang Lake Region (PLR) is based on household management (Li et al., 2011), so the behaviors of local households have become the key factor in determining the MCI. Therefore, how to scientifically and rationally choose rice growing strategies will be very important for ensuring regional food security, strengthening the position of agricultural foundation and building modern commercial grain base. In this study, questionnaire surveys of 402 farmers were conducted to analyze the characteristics of RCS in the research area. On this basis, specific countermeasures and suggestions are proposed accordingly.

1 The overview of the research area

Poyang Lake is the largest freshwater lake in China (Li et al., 2015), showing noticeable features of “becoming a vast lake at high water level and a small river at low level” which has a very profound impact agricultural production (Li et al., 2011; Jiang et al., 2010; Yan et al., 2013). PLR is a lakeside plain formed by alluvium from five major rivers (Ganjiang, Fuhe, Xinjiang, Raohe, and Xiushui). It is an important part of the middle and lower Yangtze basin (Zhang et al., 1988). Located in the East Asian Monsoon region, Poyang Lake has a subtropical humid climate with a frost-free period of 246-284 days and an average precipitation of 1600 mm (Li et al., 2015). The PLR includes nine counties (Fig. 1), e.g. Nanchang, Xinjian, Jinxian, Yugan, Poyang, Duchang, Xingzi (later Lushan City in 2016), De’an and Yongxiu - with a total land area of about 1.89 × 104 km2 (Zhang et al., 1988). Six of these (Nanchang, Xinjian, Jinxian, Poyang, Yugan and Duchang) are the national-level grain production counties, and Yongxiu is a provincial-level one. De’an, Xingzi and the other seven counties have been listed in the document “Plan for increasing grain production capacity by 100 million Jin (2009-2020)” (National Development and Reform Commission, 2009, one Jin (Chinese unit) = 0.5 kg), due to their importance for grain production.
Fig. 1 The location of the Poyang Lake Region (PLR) showing the distribution of field study sites during 2014-2015
The Poyang Lake Plain is a typical area of the single/double cropping rice in central China, and has always been the primary grain production base in Jiangxi Province, as well as a significant rice-producing area in China. Rice is the main grain crop in this region, and it accounts for more than half of the total crop planting area in Jiangxi Province. In recent years, with the impacts of industrialization, urbanization and the rising prices of agricultural materials, the comparative yields of rice have declined accordingly. The RCS in the region has undergone extensive and frequent changes, and the situation of grain production is becoming increasingly serious (Li et al., 2015).

2 Research design

2.1 Selection of sample areas

The study area or the PLR consists of nine counties which belong to three cities (Nanchang, Jinjiang and Shangrao) in Jiangxi Province. This area was chosen for the following three rules:
(1) The grain production conditions of the PLR are very well, and the grain supply is very important to the social and economic stability of Jiangxi Province. Also, the PLR is the important part of Jiangxi Province most affected by urbanization (e.g., Nanchang metropolis). Therefore, farmers’ behaviors in terms of RCS selection change frequently.
(2) Agricultural production in the PLR is relatively well developed, and it is the main supply base for commercial grain in Jiangxi province. As a typical single/double cropping rice planting area in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River Plain, the rice MCI level in the PLR is not only affected by social and economic factors such as urban development, but also restricted by natural factors such as water-level changes of Poyang Lake. Therefore, this region is representative in revealing the complex interplay of social economy and natural environment which influences the decision-making of local farmers.
(3) There are a great deal of basic data and relevant information available in the PLR. The land use and household survey data for this study derived from the Key Laboratory of Poyang Lake Wetland and Watershed Research, Ministry of Education, Jiangxi Normal University.

2.2 Data collection and research methods

The data used in this study came mainly from farmer interviews in 2014/2015. Many studies have proved the use of household survey methods to study the dynamics of social and economic phenomena as well as regional development trends (Yin et al., 2003; Feng et al., 2010; Liu et al., 2012). Large numbers of surveys are needed to reveal regional differences, so the initial sample number was larger than 400 and it was also adjusted according to the actual situation.
Random surveys of local farmers in the PLR were conducted during two periods of August 12-20, 2014 and March 15-21, 2015. Depending on accessibility and feasibility, the selection of village household samples was generally based on its general distribution and then adopted a stratified and random sampling way to ensure the reliability of collected data. First of all, therefore, based on the current situation of the lake area, we aimed to sample from the whole area, considering different levels of grain production and variations in topography for rice planting. Nanchang County, located in the southern part of the PLR, and Duchang and Poyang counties in the hilly region were selected. Secondly, stratified sampling of farmers was carried out in terms of age, gender, rice planting area, household size, etc., while individual villages were selected to represent the county with large amounts of arable land. Finally, random samplings of households were used to carry out surveys in the paddy fields and harvesting areas. In order to ensure the validity and reproducibility of the data, direct interviews with farmers was also adopted as part of the survey strategy and a large number of field records and geo-tagged photographs were thus obtained.
Farmers’ behaviors with respect to RCS were mainly surveyed by questionnaire, and farmers’ selection of single/double cropping rice and the related MCI were statistically analyzed. This paper studied the differences in the rice growing behaviors of farmers in the PLR, analyzed the spatial characteristics of rice selection, and then puts forward practical targeted strategies to ensure stable agricultural production in the PLR.

2.3 Sampling distribution

According to the sampling principles outlined above, a total of 112 villages and 405 households in 75 villages or towns in 9 counties of the PLR were selected for the questionnaire survey. Directly after the survey, the groups reviewed, discussed and checked the results. A total of 402 valid questionnaires were obtained, with an effective rate of 99.3%. The distribution and statistics of field samples in the villages and towns are shown in Table 1. A total of 15 households (3.7%) in the PLR were found to have transferred the possession of their land or to abandoned their cultivated land. In general, the survey sampled a wide range of locations (plains and hilly area), and covered all age and gender groups.
Table 1 The distribution and statistics of field samples in the villages and towns within the PLR
County The villages and towns Sample
(households)
Proportion
(%)
Nanchang Bayi town, Wuyang town, Tacheng town, Jingkou village, Wuxing farm, Changdong town, Jiangxiang town, Nanxin village, Fushan village, and Gangshang town 70 17.4
Xinjian Xixia town, Xiangshan town, Da Tangping village, Liuhu village, and Zhugang farm 27 6.7
Yongxiu Mukou town, Jiuhe village, Tubu village, Aicheng town, Zhajin town, Baicha town, and Sanjiao village 33 8.2
De’an Ganlu town, Puting town, and Jinhu village 17 4.2
Xingzi Zequan village, Sujiadang village, Hengtang town, Liaonan town, Liaohua village, and BaiLu town 27 6.7
Duchang Chunqiao village, Sushan village, Zuoli town, Beishan village, Wangdun village, Dashu village, Sanshagang town, Dasha village, Tutang town, Mingshan village, and Zhongguan town 53 13.2
Poyang Youdunjie town, Zhegang village, Youcheng town, Gaojialing town, Sishillijie town, Tuanlin town, Sanmiaoqian town, Sanmaioqian village, Luojia town, Guxiandu village, Raobu village, and Raofeng village 73 18.2
Yugan Santang village, Jiangbu village, Hongjiazui town, Wuni town, Shikou village, Kangshan village, Ruihong town, and Dongtang village 43 10.7
Jinxian Jiaqiao town, Quanling town, Wenzhen town, Wengang town, Lidu town, Changshanyan village, Sanyangji village, Qianfang village, Minhe village, Ertang village, Chixi village, Zhongling village, and Sanli village 59 14.7

3 Farmers’ approaches to plant rice in the PLR

3.1 Differences in the decision-making behaviors of rice farmers in the PLR

First of all, a comparison of farmers’ rice planting patterns in different counties (Fig. 2, Table 2) shows that there are significant variations in the selection of cropping systems. Specifically, over 80% of double cropping rice was in Yugan, Nanchang and Jinxian, where it accounted for 95.35%, 86.96% and 83.64%, respectively. Both single- and double cropping rice were cultivated in Poyang and Xinjian, with the proportions of farmers that planted only two-cropping rice in the two counties were 65.75% and 59.26%, respectively. By contrast, the counties that planted mainly single cropping rice were De’an, Xingzi, Duchang and Yongxiu, and the proportion that planted single cropping rice was extremely high in these counties. In addition, the mixed planting ratios of single and double cropping rice in Poyang and Jinxian were relatively high, accounting for 12.33% and 9.09%, respectively.
Fig. 2 Comparison of rice planting patterns in different counties within the PLR
Table 2 The household choices of rice cropping system in the PLR
County Single
cropping rice
Double
cropping rice
Mixed
planting
Sample/
House-
hold
% Sample/
House-
hold
% Sample/
House-
hold
%
Nanchang 8 5.67 60 27.27 1 3.85
Xinjian 9 6.38 16 7.27 2 7.69
Yongxiu 24 17.02 3 1.36 2 7.69
De’an 15 10.64 0 0.00 0 0.00
Xingzi 25 17.73 0 0.00 2 7.69
Duchang 39 27.66 6 2.73 4 15.38
Poyang 16 11.35 48 21.82 9 34.62
Yugan 1 0.71 41 18.64 1 3.85
Jinxian 4 2.84 46 20.91 5 19.23
Total 141 100 220 100 26 100
A comparison of Fig. 1 and Fig. 2 show that the overall rice planting pattern in the PLR has a significant difference between the north and south. Double cropping rice was dominant in the northwest of the PLR, while the single cropping rice was mainly in the southeast. According to our survey and statistics, the current situation is strongly linked to planting traditions, and is shaped by local climate, terrain, water and land conditions, as well as long-term support from agricultural policies and the distance from urban areas (Li et al., 2014). Specifically, double cropping rice is distributed intensively in the main estuarine delta, while single cropping rice is distributed widely in the suburbs of built-up areas of cities and counties and around the main lake branches (Li et al., 2011). In the north, more cash crops including cotton in the summer and rape seeds in the winter, which is highly related to local climate features (Lin et al., 2010; Huang et al., 2009).
A second comparative analysis of RCS (Table 2) found that rice farmers with only double cropping rice constituted the largest proportion, accounting for 56.85% (a total of 220) of the respondents. Among single rice planting counties, Duchang, Xingzi, and Yongxiu ranked the top three, with 39 households (27.66%), 25 households (17.73%) and 24 households (17.02%), respectively. The planting proportions with only double cropping rice in Nanchang, Poyang, Jinxian and Yugan were large, accounting for more than 20% of all farmers following this strategy. Among the farmers surveyed, the mixed planting of single- and double cropping rice was most common in Poyang, accounting for 34.62%. However, data for De’an was limited by the small sampling size of single cropping rice. While this does not really reflect the true characteristics of their rice planting, it still gives a strong indication of the prevalence of single cropping rice planting in the region. In addition, 29.6% of the surveyed farmers in the PLR changed their RCS during the past five years, with 14.2% of them changing from double cropping to single, and 10.8% from single to double. Furthermore, it was found that 44.4% of the main production areas were actively or passively abandoned.

3.2 County-level land-use intensity in PLR

The degree of land use intensity is the ratio of the total area sown to the cultivated area for the whole year. As far as the paddy fields are concerned, it is represented by multiple cropping index, which reflects the utilization intensity of paddy fields. According to the statistical analysis (Table 3), the MCI in the PLR was mainly low with an average of 1.55. Specifically, the proportion of farmers with their MCI lower than 2.0 was 56.33%; while the proportion with an index of 1.0 was 34.63%, and the proportion higher than 2.0 was 43.67%.
Table 3 The multiple-cropping index of paddy rice at the household level in the PLR
County MCI<1.0 1.0≤MCI<1.5 1.5≤MCI<2.0 MCI≥2.0
Samples
(household)
% Samples
(household)
% Samples
(household)
% Samples
(household)
%
Nanchang 8 11.59 1 1.45 10 14.49 50 72.46
Xinjian 6 22.22 8 29.63 5 18.52 8 29.63
Yongxiu 24 82.76 2 6.90 2 6.90 1 3.45
De’an 15 100.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00
Xingzi 25 92.59 2 7.41 0 0.00 0 0.00
Duchang 38 77.55 5 10.20 1 2.04 5 10.20
Poyang 13 17.81 20 27.40 9 12.33 31 42.47
Yugan 1 2.33 1 2.33 7 16.28 34 79.07
Jinxian 4 7.27 9 16.36 2 3.64 40 72.73
Total 134 34.63 48 12.40 36 9.30 169 43.67

Note: Multiple-cropping index (MCI) = rice planting area/paddy field area

For the nine counties in the PLR, there were significant differences in the MCI.
(1) For the interviewed farmers whose the MCI were 1.0, De’an accounted for the highest proportion of the survey samples. Second, Xingzi and Yongxiu included 25 and 24 households respectively, accounting for 92.59% and 82.76%, respectively. The smallest, one household in Yugan, only accounted for 2.33%.
(2) Among the interviewed farmers with the MCI in the range of 1.0-1.5, Xinjian had the highest proportion of samples (29.63%). The largest sample was in Poyang Country (20 households). Nanchang has only one household, merely accounting for 1.45%.
(3) Among the interviewed farmers with the MCI in the range of 1.5-2.0, the largest sample of surveyed farmers was in Nanchang (10 households). The surveyed farmers of Xingzi and De’an all planted single cropping rice.
(4) For households with the MCI over 2.0, Nanchang had the largest sample size in the region, with 50 households, while Yugan had the highest proportion in the research sample (79.07%).
Through analysis of the questionnaires, it was found that there were significant differences in the MCI by county. In Nanchang, the MCI were relatively high. Most farmers (72.46% of them) chose to plant double cropping rice. In Xinjian, the MCI of different levels were relatively balanced, indicating that local farmers chose different cropping systems. The MCI of Yongxiu was low, and single cropping rice was dominant. The MCI of 82.76% of households was 1.0. The MCI of De’an and Xingzi were very low (less than 1.0), with over 90% of farmers. Duchang’s MCI were relatively low as well. Most farmers planted single cropping rice, and 77.55% of them were at the level of 1.0. The MCI of the interviewed farmers in Poyang was 2.0, where farmers chose either single cropping or double-season rice. The MCI more than 70% of surveyed farmers was 2.0.
When the MCI of rice in the PLR (Table 3) is combined with Fig. 1, it can be seen that the land-use intensity shows obvious north-south differences. Since paddy fields are being reduced via occupation and transformation, it is worthwhile that specific strategies to increase the cropping area and/or double cropping index were proposed accordingly, so as to enhance grain supply in the future.

4 Conclusions

This paper has discussed the actual situation of grain production in Jiangxi Province (Xiao et al., 2015), based on field investigation of farmers in the PLR. The status quo of RCS selection among farmers in the PLR has been preliminarily analyzed at the farmer scale, and allows the authors to put forward some corresponding countermeasures and suggestions. The main conclusions are as follows:
(1) At present, the overall rice planting pattern shows significant north-south differences, with double cropping rice planting predominant in the southeast (Jinxian County, etc.), and single cropping rice planting mainly in the northwest (De’an County, etc.). This is consistent with the results from dynamic monitoring of the main rice-producing areas of the Poyang Lake Plain using Landsat images (Liu et al., 2016). The analysis re-emphasized the north-south differentiation of rice planting in the lake area, which is closely related to planting traditions and the main industries in the area and cash crops, such as cotton and oilseed rape, which are major commodities in the north.
(2) Nearly 30% of the surveyed farmers made changes to their RCS in the past five years, especially from double cropping to single. In addition, the problem of farmers abandoning cultivation, whether actively or passively has made rice production situation in the lake area less stable and more serious.
(3) At the farmer level, the selection of RCS in different counties varied significantly. The proportion of farmers who chose double cropping rice was larger, accounting for 63.57%, but with a low MCI of 1.55. With increased social and economic development, the paddy field area is bound to decrease further. Therefore, it is worth considering whether to optimize the structure of grain cash crops in the future based on the agricultural supply-side reform and differences in regional social and economic development.

5 Policy implications

Since 2004, the introduction of a series of policies to strengthen agriculture and benefit farmers had some success in promoting farmers’ enthusiasm for grain production, and they have increased the area planted to a certain extent. However, due to the comparatively low returns from grain and the "economic man" behavior of farmers, the regional rice MCI are still low, which has negative impacts on regional food security. In addition to farmers’ behaviors, regional grain production is greatly influenced by the natural environment, climatic conditions and market rules, typically following a one-year cycle. Therefore, grain production fluctuates frequently annually. Regional economic development is a long-term and stable process of growth, influenced by such factors as resource endowment, policies and historical changes. Related studies show that regional grain production and economic development have a clear contradictory relationship (Liu et al., 2015). With the rise of “Poyang Lake Ecological Economic Zone” as a national strategy, Poyang Lake Region has become a typical area where urban development and food production compete against each other. Ensuring the food security of the region and increasing farmers’ incomes, optimizing allocation of resources to realize the simultaneous development of grain and economy, are the key issues that should be addressed in the future. The following countermeasures are proposed, based on the results of this study and others.

5.1 Planting area distribution: Where to plant?

Generally, the decline of grain yield is caused not only by decrease in farmland, more importantly, the vast decrease in the area planted. At present, China is faced with a reduction of high-quality cultivated land. The main reason for the decrease in the grain planting area is that, aside from the low market price of grain and the facts that farmers make little profit from planting grain, the choice of planting area according to local conditions is especially critical. In central China, the typical area of single- and double cropping systems (PLR for example), has better light, heat and water resources than elsewhere, and more than 80% of the counties is given high attention over grain production. For example, the PLR is a national grain production base. In Jiangxi Province, the overall cultivated land quality is higher, and large-scale management enables reasonable economic returns. However, the water-level seasonality of Poyang Lake causes the interannual or annual fluctuations of rice planting in the polder area, with frequent changes of RCS and, ultimately, an unstable grain yield. Our household survey showed that the land in the lake area (e.g. Liuhu Village in Xinjian County and Guxiandu Town in Poyang County) was subject to the seasonal influence of precipitation due to climate changes, which affected the flooding of paddy fields, especially the transplanting of double cropping rice.
The rapid growth of social economy in the PLR brings benefits to food production, but the associated development also squeezes the space for food production, putting agriculture at risk of being swallowed up by other uses. In view of the unique planting environment seen in the lake area, combined with remote sensing monitoring (Liu et al., 2016), the government should, first of all, strengthen the protection of cultivated land, keeping a clear demarcation of cultivated areas and actively promoting consolidation. Secondly, a comprehensive, planned and systematic improvement of cultivated land resources should be carried out in the lake area to reduce the contradiction between the aim of increasing grain production and the shortage of cultivated land. Thirdly, on the basis of ensuring resilience, the quality of basic farmland should be improved so that it can survive droughts, floods, and others disasters. Specifically, a major role should be given to the five rivers basin (Ganjiang, Fuhe, Xinjiang, Raohe and Xiushui) in the future, which is the key to strengthening regulation in the rest of the region. Taken the Ganfu plain irrigation area formed by Ganjiang and Fuhe as an example, improvements should be made by expanding the cultivated land area, improving the field roads, reconstructing the farmland network, promoting irrigation and other measures. These steps would make full use of the lake area’s rich water, climate and soil resources for strengthening the lakes’ cropping potential, and intensify the use of existing resources, using the embankment land to increase grain output.

5.2 Agricultural selection: What to plant?

As rational people following the path of “economic man”, some farmers (especially those in the suburbs) still tend to plant non-grain crops due to the low efficiency of grain production, and some have abandoned land. Variations in rice planting patterns in the lake area are common. In view of this, the lake area should actively respond to the need for national food security, combining its regional characteristics to adjust the planting structure of grain crops, and play to its strengths. For example, since the dominant type of cultivation is rice planting, it thus should be expanded into especially double rice planting.
In terms of the Poyang Lake Region (PLR):
(1) Combined with differences in agricultural supply-side reform, as well as social and economic development, highly urbanized areas should be encouraged to develop the economic benefits of suburban agricultural development (growing vegetables, etc.), in order to offset the loss of food supply capacity caused by urbanization. In addition, area with relatively low levels of economic activity and urbanization, generally located in the peripheral regions of Poyang Lake, are more suitable for grain and they can be actively encouraged to grow double cropping rice and thus enhance grain production.
(2) The Poyang Lake Plain has many tributaries and deltas (e.g. Xinjiang river delta) that are strongly influenced by changes in the water level of Poyang Lake. Although the rice fields are fertile, the survey found that the lakeside paddy fields are easily waterlogged during the spring- summer season and/or suffered from drought when the lake level drops. Therefore, rice cultivation in the region around Poyang Lake should consider single cropping that would make full use of land resources such as the ponds of Jinxian County (Li et al., 2015). In low hilly land, suitable water and soils offer favorable conditions for rice planting. If land leveling was carried out, a large amount of double cropping rice could be planted. For example, if a large area of land in Tutang Town of Duchang County was leveled, the planting area of double cropping rice would increase substantially.

5.3 Planting population: Who will plant?

In the PLR, rice cultivation is mainly carried out by farmers and strongly affected by market forces. In addition, the elderly and women are increasingly becoming the main food producers and labor force. According to our analysis, the average age of the rural labor force in the PLR was 54.2 years old, among which 94.1% of the surveyed households are over 40 years old, followed by 67.8% over 50 years old, and 27.2% over 60 years old. In order to improve the enthusiasm of farmers for growing grain, the state has introduced a series of policies (such as direct subsidies for grain) to strengthen agriculture and benefit the farmers. Grain subsidies can not only enhance farmers’ interest in grain growing to some extent, but can also guide their planting behavior. Other studies (Li et al., 2015) have shown that the grain subsidy in the PLR had little obvious incentive effect on the rice cropping decisions of farmers, but did not deny the protective effects of grain subsidy and minimum price guarantee for farmers. As far as the survey results of farmers in the PLR are concerned, the influence of differences in local planting structure mean that the subsidy standards in various regions are quite different (mainly in terms of subsidy amount, etc.), which leads to a widening income gap in agricultural production and further aggravates the differences in selection of RCS at the regional level. In view of this, preferential support policies such as additional agricultural subsidies could be formulated to attract and promote new generations of young labor force to become skilled, highly knowledgeable and capable farmers. This would inject new vitality into the ageing population of agricultural producers in the lake area. This effort also resonates with the current national push to encourage groups of high-quality young people to return home to build a new countryside.
In the future, starting at the grassroots level, the policies should encourage large-scale grain planting, and fully implement the subsidy system (such as agricultural insurance subsidies and land transfer subsidies) and minimum purchase price protection, so as to improve farmers’ enthusiasm for growing grain. In terms of grain subsidies, the cropping system (area) of grain planting can be piloted to replace the simple land area subsidy, from a single subsidy only considering area and paddy land or household population to include the multiple-copping numbers, so as to increase the planting area of double cropping rice and increase MCI. On the business side, the government should accelerate the work of land confirmation, registration and certification, so as to actively develop various forms of medium-scale management and new types of agricultural businesses. For example, in the tourist towns of Poyang County, Gaojialing Town, and Changshanyan Town in Jinxian County, the large towns and villages carry out more planting or larger-scale operations as a result of land leveling. Consequently, the RCS is mostly double cropping. In the future, we should take advantage of land circulation in the PLR as an opportunity to establish rice cooperatives and popularize large-scale management. This would not only make efficient use of land resources and save input costs, but also improve the rice replanting index, thus enhancing regional food security.

5.4 Planting strategy: How to plant?

The input of resources and technology can directly affect the output efficiency of cultivated land and the farmer’s planting decisions. The varied grain varieties and uneven growing environment have become the main factors restricting the increase of grain yield per unit area. At present, with the strong reduction in cultivated land resources, the grain size advantage of Jiangxi Province is obvious but the production efficiency remains low (Xiao et al., 2015). Therefore, it would be wise to promote scientific supply-side reforms in a pragmatic way, while actively improving the yield per unit area of crops. In the context of the PLR, small farmers should continue to encourage intensive cultivation and improve the quality of their food products, while for the farmers with large land area, a number of factors should guide development. On one hand, the policy should attract more investment in science and technology and develop relevant environmental governance, thus creating good conditions for rice growing. The phenomenon of abandoned land should be gradually eradicated. Also, other issues including land pollution caused by industrial development, such as the eastern part of Nanchang County, which was forced to abandon its paddy fields because of chemical pollution.
On the other hand, in the future, the research and development on rice cultivation should be strengthened to improve the yield per unit area of grain through high-quality and high-yield varieties. In addition, farmers in the lake area have long adopted the intensive farming methods and agricultural production is entirely the result of the behavior of farmers and families. We should take the opportunity of land circulation to improve the systematic cooperation among company, community, farmers and farmland, in the form of the implementation of road, water, ditch, electricity and other aspects of comprehensive reforms, at the collective and household level. This would further enhance agricultural industrialization, modernization and then increase the multiple cropping index. At the same time, we can expect a steady increase in the supply of grain products in terms of quantity, variety and quality to meet the needs of consumers, truly forming an effective supply with reasonable structure and sustainability. Only then can we stimulate grain production from the perspective of consumption.

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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