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Agriculture, fishing, and forestry of China

Due to the unique topographical and climatic conditions present, the proportion of China’s land that is deemed suitable for agricultural practices is relatively limited, encompassing merely about 10 percent of the nation’s total landmass. Within this cultivable area, just over half is reliant on natural rainfall, while the remaining land is almost evenly distributed between paddy fields and regions benefiting from irrigation systems, where notable advancements in water conservation have been achieved. The quality of soil across these agricultural zones is quite variable, and environmental challenges such as flooding, drought, and soil erosion represent significant risks in numerous localities. Despite these challenges, approximately two-thirds of China’s populace resides in rural areas. Historically, until the 1980s, a substantial majority of this rural population was engaged in agriculture as their primary source of livelihood. Subsequent to this period, there has been a concerted effort to transition individuals away from agricultural labor towards alternative economic activities, including handicrafts, commerce, industrial employment, and transportation services. By the mid-1980s, the contribution of agriculture to the rural economy had declined to less than half of the total rural output. Although there has been an increase in the adoption of agricultural machinery, the majority of Chinese farmers continue to rely on traditional, non-mechanized tools for their farming needs.

In the western regions of China, encompassing Tibet, Xinjiang, and Qinghai, the agricultural impact is relatively minor, with the exception of certain pockets of oasis agriculture and livestock rearing. Rice, which stands as China’s staple crop, predominantly thrives in the southern provinces, with several areas achieving two harvests annually. In contrast, wheat claims the title of the most crucial crop in Northern China, whereas in the central provinces, wheat and rice compete for dominance. Millet and kaoliang (a type of grain sorghum) are primarily cultivated in the Northeast and certain central regions, which, along with some northern territories, also yield significant amounts of barley. The majority of China’s soybean production emanates from the North and the Northeast, while corn (maize) is cultivated in both the central and northern regions. The nation’s tea production is largely concentrated in the hilly southeastern zones. Cotton cultivation is widespread in the central provinces but is also present in the southeast and the North to a lesser extent. Tobacco is predominantly grown in the central regions and some southern areas. Other crops of note include potatoes, sugar beets, and various oilseeds.

Animal husbandry represents the second principal component of China’s agricultural output. The country holds the distinction of being the world’s foremost producer of pigs, chickens, and eggs, and maintains considerable populations of sheep and cattle. Since the mid-1970s, there has been an increased focus on augmenting livestock production to meet growing demands.

Forestry and fishing

The extensive depletion of China’s readily accessible forest reserves over an extended period has led to the initiation of a vigorous afforestation effort. However, this initiative has not fully met the necessary scale; the nation’s forest resources remain relatively limited. The primary forested regions are situated within the Qin (Tsinling) Mountains, the central mountainous zones, and the highland areas of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. The Qin forests, due to their remote location, are not extensively exploited, resulting in the majority of China’s lumber production being sourced from the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, Sichuan, and Yunnan.

China boasts a rich heritage in both marine and freshwater fisheries, as well as aquaculture, positioning it as the global frontrunner in these sectors. The vast majority of the harvest is derived from the Pacific Ocean fisheries, with the remainder predominantly originating from domestic freshwater bodies. Traditional pond aquaculture has been a critical component and is increasingly being emphasized. This strategy aims to alleviate the pressures of overfishing on coastal and inland fisheries and to generate high-value export goods, such as prawns. Notably, aquaculture yields surpassed those of traditional fishing methods in the early 1990s in terms of total production volume.

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