Debates have persisted on the precise nature and consequence of urbanization on cultivated land in China. The primary goal of this paper is to provide empirical-based evidence on the impacts of urbanization and industrialization on cultivated land. Based on cultivate land data estimated from Landsat Thematic Mapper/Enhanced Thematic Mapper digital images for 1987, 1995 and 2000 and a unique set of county-level socio-economic data, an econometric model on cultivated land change is empirically estimated. The results produce findings that are both expected and those that are fairly surprising. Because of offsetting effects of land expansion in China's northeast and northwest regions, overall there was a small net increase in cultivated land between 1987 and 2000. Although cultivated area decline between 1995 and 2000, the net decline was about 1.2% only. Industrialization and population growth were largely responsible for the fall in 1995-2000. Moreover, contrary to the conventional opinion, after holding constant the effect of industrialization and population growth, regardless of whether urban area expansion occurs in large, medium or small cities or towns, such urbanization is land-saving when compared to leaving rural residents in rural areas. Two of major implications of our analysis are: 1) although the loss of cultivated land imposes a cost on the nation, it appears to be associated with those processes that will lead to the ultimate modernization of China; 2) the nation's policies of town and small city development are not necessarily inefficient in terms of their impact on cultivated land use.
International experience shows that rapid economic growth is accompanied by a large shift of agricultural land to other uses. The overall goal of this study is to examine the changes of the area and bioproductivity of cultivated land in China where the size of the economy doubled every 8 years. Based on Landsat TM/ETM digital images covering China’s territory in the past 15 years and by utilizing the AEZ methodology, our study finds that contrary to many people’s expectations, China recorded a net increase of cultivated land by 2.65 million hectares in 1986-2000 and accounted for nearly 2% of all cultivated land. We also found that the average productivity of cultivated land declined by about 0.31%, as the bioproductivity of new cultivated land converted from other uses was generally lower than that of cultivated land converted to other uses. Despite a decline in land bioproductivity in the past and a likely decline in total cultivated land in the future, their impact on agricultural production will be minimal. China can maintain a healthy cultivated land base for food and agricultural production in the long term.