Rural Land EngineeringChina’s poverty reduction success is exemplary. According to the World Bank, in 2000, China had a poverty rate of 49.8%, which decreased to 0.6% in 2019. But rapid urbanization has led to both land degradation and higher rates of rural poverty. Because sustainable land use is an important part of economic growth, China is attempting to mitigate this rural poverty through the use of rural land engineering.

According to 2017 data from UNICEF, about 53.6% of China’s rural poor reside in the country’s western region, equaling 16.34 million people. Guizhou holds the highest number of impoverished people at 2.95 million. Xinjiang, an area with high numbers of ethnic minorities such as the marginalized Uyghur people, has the most significant poverty rate — 9.9%.

Since 2000, China has introduced several social development programs in rural communities, such as “universal compulsory education up to grade 9, rural medical cooperative system, social pension system for rural residents and a minimum living allowance scheme,” the World Bank reports.

What is Rural Land Engineering?

Since land degradation is the most significant problem that some rural communities in China face, people are turning to rural land engineering and other similar practices that revitalize the land. In this context, it is a method of agricultural engineering that is able to prevent land degradation. Some forms of land engineering are land consolidation, reclamation, restoration and reallocation. All of these different types of land engineering help curtail land degradation, and therefore, rural poverty.

The most well-known form of rural land engineering is land consolidation. According to the European Environment Agency, land consolidation involves “joining small plots of land together to form larger farms or large fields.” According to an article in Geographical Research, the main objective of land consolidation is to maximize the amount of arable land and advance the conditions of agricultural production. Land consolidation generally consists of practices that seek to maximize the earning potential of a given area.

Why Rural Land Engineering?

To put it simply, this method of curtailing poverty is useful and easy. It creates a balanced man-land system. Because people and land are the two most important parts of rural communities, it makes sense that a balanced man-land system would be optimal for reducing poverty.

Liu Yansui and Wang Yongsheng conducted a study that discusses rural land engineering and how it helps to alleviate poverty. In the study, the researchers find that hilly areas in parts of rural China can be repurposed into productive farmland. This productive farmland would then create income for rural families. By repurposing this hilly land, rural families in such areas can rise out of poverty.

Another key explanation in the study outlines the link between poverty and land engineering. The researchers found that “land engineering utilizes engineering measures to coordinate human-land relationships by transforming unused land into available land or efficiently using the existing land.”

Geographical Research explains that, through the use of land consolidation, impoverished peasants are able to obtain farmland that is supplied with “improved infrastructure and roads.”

A History of Land Engineering

China began land engineering practices as far back as the time of the Xia dynasty but has now moved onto more modern means of land engineering. China established the Key Laboratory of Degraded and Unused Land Consolidation Engineering in 2013.

In 2016, China developed a new commission of the International Geography Union on Agricultural Geography and Land Engineering (IGU-AGLE) in the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences. IGU-AGLE focuses on “the improvement in agricultural conditions and consolidation of degraded land and defiled land using land engineering.” Also in 2016, universities in China formalized land engineering as a discipline to “cultivate professional talent for national land technology innovation and development.”

Overall, rural land engineering plays a role in poverty reduction in rural China. China stands as an example of national poverty reduction at a large scale and continues to demonstrate a commitment to dissolving poverty among rural populations.

– Timothy Ginter
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in RwandaAgriculture is a key sector of the Rwandan economy and has been growing in the post-genocide reconstruction era. Over 50 percent of the total surface of the country, approximately 1.4 million hectares, is arable land.

Traditionally though, Rwanda has focused on subsistence agriculture. It is one of the Vision 2020 goals for the sector to adapt and grow, moving from a focus on subsistence to a focus on commercial production. This industry growth will also increase household incomes and reduce poverty by up to 50 percent in the next two decades.


Barriers to Growth

For the agricultural sector to grow to its full potential, it must be sustainable. However, there are currently many barriers to sustainable agriculture in Rwanda. These include soil erosion, population pressure and water pollution.

Crops such as cassava are grown all across Rwanda but are more likely to lead to soil erosion. This is exacerbated by frequent field turnover, meaning fields are not left fallow to replenish their nutrients in favor of using them immediately. This yields immediate crops but is not sustainable.

The land has also been degraded by population pressures in both rural and urban areas. More farmers are vying for arable land than the small country of Rwanda can handle. In addition, the fertilizers that some farmers use to protect and extend their crop yields are polluting the country’s water.


Sustainable Solutions

There are many solutions and initiatives that are promoting sustainable agriculture in Rwanda. Sustainable land use management is a key pillar of the Vision 2020 goals. In the Umutara region, a One Cow per Family program has been successful in improving income and nutrition for families by producing and selling milk, but also in providing manure that enhances crop production. In addition, limiting the number of cows per family has reduced overgrazing in the region.

The issue of soil nutrient replacement is being tackled by the government, which has paired with the private sector to subsidize and distribute fertilizer to farmers. It remains to be seen, however, how this increase in the use of fertilizer will impact pollution. The government also promotes techniques such as terracing, which makes more efficient use of the hilly landscape, agroforestry, zero-grazing zones and better irrigation systems to expand the arable land and improve sustainability.


Financing Sustainable Agriculture in Rwanda

Sustainable initiatives cost money, which is a barrier in itself in Rwanda. As a result, outside organizations have stepped in to help finance sustainable agriculture in Rwanda.

The Environmental Resources Management Foundation provided a grant through the Africa Development Promise to support a women’s cooperative in the Bugesera district. The women were subsistence farmers and were suffering from very low crop yields. The grant paid for the installation of a greenhouse with a year-round irrigation system.

Furthermore, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations provides assistance in Rwanda centered on four areas: improving food security and nutrition, sustainably managing resources to increase productivity, private sector investment and collaboration/knowledge sharing.

Finally, the Urwego Opportunity Bank is a Rwandan bank that issues both individual and cooperative loans to farmers. It evaluates the needs of the farmers so it does not issue loans above the amount needed, and it requires proof of the contract with buyers to purchase the harvest. Then it issues loans tailored to farmers’ needs. These loans have financed maize, rice and potato cultivation, cow and milk machine acquisition and transportation to local markets.

As Rwanda’s economy continues to grow, the key may be agriculture, and the key to leveraging agriculture is sustainability. Continued efforts toward improving sustainable agriculture in Rwanda are sure to lead to further economic development in the African nation.

– Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in AndalusiaIn Andalusia, one of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain, agriculture and food production drive the economy. According to 2016 report, 24.3 percent of the region’s population lives in rural areas. Desertification, the process by which once-fertile land becomes lifeless, is eating away at vital landscapes. The dehesa, a traditional Spanish amalgamation of agriculture, natural grasslands and shrubbery, is falling out of favor.

Cultivation of singular crops has been going on for decades. This monoculture leads to vast segments of exposed land actively depleting, risking fire and limiting natural resources. As viable lands shrink, urban drift intensifies. Smallhold farmers without knowledge or resources to promote sustainable agriculture in Andalusia move away in hopes of finding work in the city. For the many who met with failure, it is time for them to come home.

How to Make Smallholder Farming Profitable

Expanding sustainable agriculture in Andalusia will allow smallholder farmers struggling to grow their products in profitable ways an incentive to return to their holdings. Affordable, accessible ways to repair dead soil and improve access to water are increasingly available. Healthy soil acts as a sponge; to rebuild the soil is key to water stewardship.

Between the coasts and the olive groves, Andalusians traverse stretches of terrain on horseback. The land is harsh and unforgiving at times. Andalusian culture speaks to its past life as a Moorish outpost, as well as its Spanish ties. Olive trees and the famed jamón ibérico paint the landscape and provide important sources of revenue.

Today, sustainable agriculture in Andalusia is positioned not only to reclaim land lost to desertification, but also to create a vibrant agricultural economy that fights climate change and improves quality of life. Though the Spanish economy overall ranks at fourteenth in the world, this statistic masks the macroeconomic disparity of wealth among the autonomous regions.

Recent data reports that over 40 percent of the population in Andalusia lives in poverty. Abandoned holdings plus the failure of urban drift to create lasting jobs contribute to the spike in unemployment. However, the root and the solution to this problem can be found in the same place: the land.

Global Efforts

Desertification is a natural disaster occurring on a global scale. When the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification launched in 1994, the combined effort of member states to protect the welfare of populations living in drylands established this threat as a priority.

The resonating message from the last meeting is one of urgency. As desertification mushrooms across land, left in the wake of destruction are not only the environment, but also the livelihoods of the people who are sustained by it.

Rebuilding the Andalusian Farming Culture

Danyadara, a grassroots organization nestled in the foothills of the Sierra de Grazalema, is drawing from the region’s long history of human interaction with and reliance upon the land in order to provide a working example of sustainable agriculture. Cost-effective ways to improve soil and manage water are showcased on their property, where a formerly barren field grows into a thriving food forest.

For the many Andalusians that only know poverty, the current situation only reaffirms their way of life. But this passive acceptance may fade as sustainable agricultural investment blossoms.

Danyadara recognizes that Andalusia is positioned to be a leader in small-scale sustainable agriculture. Efforts of the small staff and volunteers are directed at not only regenerating their own land, but also sharing knowledge and resources with the community. Their methods are three pronged: bring back the soil, improve water stewardship and increase carbon sequestration. Detailed information on their projects can be found in both Spanish and English on their website.

Climate Farming

Sustainable agriculture in Andalusia, or climate farming as it is sometimes called, is a vehicle for job creation and investment. The historic dehesa-style of farming is a natural stepping-stone toward climate farming and sustainable agriculture. It encourages biodiversity, the replanting of grasslands and enables a no-till farming structure that is important in the fight against climate change.

“For us, the biggest game changer will be when we can share no-till seeding technology with our neighbors,” said Jacob Evans, Farm Manager at Danyadara. “Our host site, Suryalila Retreat Centre, enables a hyper-focus on soil health since the land is a gift. Once we show people that it is possible to seed without tilling, keeping the soil intact, the lessons and gifts from the older generation will come full-circle.”

– Andrea Blumenstein

Photo: Wikimedia Commons