Urbanization-associated farmland loss: A macro-micro comparative study in China

Bing Bing Zhou, Rimjhim Aggarwal, Jianguo Wu, Ligang Lv

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


A decades-long debate remains unsettled regarding whether to contain urban development for farmland protection, due to concerns on food security. Existing studies often follow the framing that urban encroachment of farmland undermines food self-sufficiency. Here we reexamine the validity of this problem framing by going beyond the focus on urban encroachment of farmland. We proposed an analytical framework that distinguishes four types of urbanization-associated farmland loss (UAFL) and highlights the direct and indirect linkages between urbanization and the agri-food system. We then conducted a macro-micro comparative study along the urban-rural gradient in the context of China, where ensuring grain self-sufficiency is a national strategic goal. At the macro scale, we comparatively analyzed land use/cover change during 2000−2015 for southeast and northwest China. The results show that the majority of farmland loss was not due to urban development in both regions. At the micro scale, we contrasted household (HH) interviews about farmland loss causes and impacts in two representative rural and peri-urban villages in China. The results show that urbanization can undermine grain self-sufficiency by reducing farming's economic viability and thus farmers’ willingness to farm. Our findings suggest that the prevailing framing—urban encroachment of farmland threatens food security—is a fake problem, invalid for advocating urban containment. We emphasize policy challenges at the regional, village, and household levels for enhancing food self-sufficiency and identify a research need to better protect farmland. Further, we highlight the necessity and promise of syndrome-based archetypical research of the UAFL issue for advancing sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105228
JournalLand Use Policy
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Coupled rural-urban systems
  • Cropland loss
  • Diagnostic approach
  • Food security
  • Landscape sustainability
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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