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Media release

Food for thought as China’s cities grow

The growth of Chinese cities is increasing wealth in the country, but it’s coming at a cost, with farmers needing to make room for city dwellers as a consequence of the country’s ongoing economic boom.

The new study by Professor Xuemei Bai from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society has revealed that China is experiencing unprecedented and rapid urbanisation.

“Between 1997 and 2006 more than 12,000 km² of land was converted into built-up urban areas,” she said. “However, despite these rapid changes there is still debate about whether urban growth causes economic growth.

“In this study we found that there is a strong and positive relationship between urban land expansion and economic growth in Chinese cities. There is also a feedback between the two, meaning that increased land expansion increases gross domestic product (GDP), which then leads to increased land expansion and so on.

“On top of this, there are large spill-on effects, with urban land growth not only having a positive GDP impact for an urban area, but for the surrounding area as well.”

The study also showed that most of the land used for urban expansion in China came from agricultural land – causing more pressure in a country where per capita arable land is already well below the world average and where food security concerns are on the rise. The study’s results suggest that it will be difficult to control arable land loss without sacrificing economic growth.

“In recent years the Chinese government has started tightening its control on urban land expansion in an attempt to reduce the loss of agricultural land across the country,” said Professor Bai.

“Our results show that such measures may impact on economic growth. In fact, these results are already being felt, with many cities now facing financial difficulties due to restrictions on land expansion.

“This leaves the Chinese government with some tough decisions. It may be very difficult for China to control urban expansion without sacrificing economic growth.

“What is needed is better understanding of the complex interactions and drivers that link urban growth, economic growth and food security as well as a more coordinated approach to urbanisation, land use and economic policies.”

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About Simon Copland

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. In his spare time he plays rugby union and is a David Bowie fanatic. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer, blogs at The Moonbat and tweets at @SimonCopland.

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