Mar 2024, Volume 11 Issue 1

Cover illustration

  • The cover image shows a beautiful agricultural landscape that has been integrated into the concept of green development. Agriculture Green Development (AGD) ultimately aims to achieve multiple societal goals, including food security, resource conservation, environmental sustainability, and social equity, thereby promoting rural revitalization and building a more beautiful countryside. To realize AGD in practice, there is a need for coupling the four subsystems of green crop p [Detail] ...

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    William J. DAVIES, Jianbo SHEN
    Jianbo SHEN, Qichao ZHU, Yong HOU, Wen-Feng CONG, Wen XU, Jiuliang XU, Zhichao AN, Xiaoqiang JIAO, Kai ZHANG, Tianxiang YU, Lin MA, Oene OENEMA, William J. DAVIES, Fusuo ZHANG

    ● Agriculture green development (AGD) has been undertaken in China for 5 years.

    ● New insights and advances on the four themes of AGD in China are elucidated.

    ● AGD involves interdisciplinary research innovation, multistakeholder participation, multi-objective realization and regional-specific technology implementation.

    ● Implementation of AGD in China will provide valuable experience paradigm for the world.

    Reconciling the tasks of producing adequate amounts of nutritious food for the increasing global population while preserving the environment and natural ecosystems simultaneously is an enormous challenge. The concept of agriculture green development (AGD) and the necessary governmental policies were developed to address the aforementioned challenge in China and to help achieve the related global sustainable development goals. Agriculture green development emphasizes the synergy between green and development; current agriculture has to transform from the intensive farming with high inputs, high environmental impacts and low resource-use efficiency to a more sustainable agriculture, in order to ensure an adequate supply of nutritious food while delivering environmental integrity, improved economic profitability, and social equity. A research program on AGD was established by China Agricultural University with four research themes, namely: green crop production, green integrated crop-animal production, green food and industry, and green ecological environment and ecosystem services, to provide a scientific basis for future developments and to facilitate the implementation of AGD in practice. AGD requires a multistakeholder approach, fueled by innovative and interdisciplinary research. Joint actions have to be taken by governments, farmers, supply industries, consumers, educators, extension services and researchers to support AGD. This requires strong coordination and public awareness campaigns. This review presents the progress that has been made over the past 5 years and makes recommendations for more research and development, in order to better deliver agricultural green and sustainable development on national and international scales.

    Haixing ZHANG, Yuan FENG, Yanxiang JIA, Pengqi LIU, Yong HOU, Jianbo SHEN, Qichao ZHU, Fusuo ZHANG

    ● A target-threshold indicator evaluation system is proposed to measure China’s agriculture transformation.

    ● Evaluation based on a development score showed China is currently at a medium level in the Agriculture Green Development initiative.

    ● There was a trend for increasing development scores for 2010–2020 compared to 1997–2010.

    ● Trade-offs between eco-environmental factors and socioeconomic/food production factors were found to be the major barriers to the transformation.

    ● More effort is needed to address the insufficient and uneven development to provide coordinated improvement.

    China has initiated a green transformation plan in 2015, which was soon applied to agriculture, known as the agriculture green development (AGD) initiative, with the goals of achieving food security, high resource use efficiency, and an ecofriendly environment. To assess the agricultural transformation from 1997 to 2020, this paper proposes a national-scale indicator system consisting three dimensions (socioeconomic, food production and eco-environmental) and ten sub-dimensions to quantify the AGD score. This study showed that AGD score in China was at a moderate level during 1997–2010, scoring 40 out of 100. During this stage, decreased scores in the sub-dimensions of resource consumption, environmental quality, and environmental cost have offset the improvement in the socioeconomic dimension, resulting in fluctuated scores around 40. In the second stage (2011–2020), China’s AGD score improved but still at moderate level, scoring an average of 46.3, with each dimension increasing by 5.3%–25.0%. These results indicate that China has made progress in the agricultural transformation, transitioning from conceptualization to actions through the implementation of various policies and projects. However, the study emphasizes the need for more effort to address the insufficient and unbalanced development, along with the growing eco-environmental challenges, especially the trade-offs among dimensions.

    William J. DAVIES

    ● The urgent need to address increasing worldwide food and climate insecurity.

    ● Potential conflicts between these aims.

    ● Environmental challenges require a revolution in global farming practices.

    ● Growing concerns over diet-related health problems.

    ● New plant science to reduce global food insecurity.

    In many countries, political and environmental pressures are currently combining to generate a perfect storm of circumstances that is reducing food availability, increasing food costs and thereby reducing the availability of food to many. The UK is currently considering new national food and land management policies, and attention is also being given to legislation to address diet-related health issues. Many now argue for a revolution in UK farming practices to reduce their impact on the natural environment. The UK is not alone in facing these and other challenges. Both the contribution of agriculture to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the effects of climate change on food production are issues receiving worldwide attention. Regenerative agricultural practices can result in greater C capture, reduced GHG emissions, enhanced soil quality and enhanced biodiversity. However, it is questioned if such farming systems will be productive enough to feed a growing population with the food required for social and health benefits. To fully exploit the impact of new plant science in farmer fields, it is imperative to effectively link science to farming practices and conduct a broader conversation around the food revolution with social scientists and with the general public.

    Xiao XU, Yanxiang JIA, Yuan FENG, Haixing ZHANG, Wen XU, Qichao ZHU

    ● Objective based county-level AGD evaluation index system was established.

    ● A typical agricultural county of Quzhou County in the North China Plain was use as a representative study.

    ● Unbalanced development was revealed as well as large gaps relative to targets.

    ● Spearman rank correlation analysis revealed more synergistic effect than trade-off effect.

    ● Trade-off existed between eco-environment and both food production and socioeconomic dimensions.

    Agriculture green development (AGD) has become an unavoidable choice to address the unique national circumstances of China. This study established a county-level AGD evaluation index system, comprised three dimensions, food production, ecological environment and socioeconomic development, using 20 indicators. The assessment delved into historical trend and current situation, utilizing Spearman rank correlation analysis to analyze trade-off and synergy relationships, using Quzhou County, Hebei Province as a case study. The main findings were in four areas. Firstly, the index for AGD in Quzhou County increased by 58.9% from 1978 to 2019. The major contribution were the social economy (65.8%) and food production (53.5%), whereas the ecological environment was found to have had a negative impact. Secondly, in 2019, the AGD index was only 56.4, indicating substantial potential for improvement relative to the target value. A notable difference in scores existed between the three dimensions, with the order being ecological environment (66.3) > food production (61.7) > socioeconomic (41.3). Also, 90% of the indicators did not reach the target value. Thirdly, relationship analysis of the indicators revealed that the synergistic effect exceeded the trade-off effect. Specifically, 46.3% of the indicators had no significant relationship, 35.3% had a synergistic relationship, and 18.4% had a trade-off relationship. Finally, interdimensional indicator relationships exhibited a trade-off effect between the ecological environment and both food production and socioeconomic dimensions. However, a positive trend of synergy between production and ecology has emerged since 2015. In conclusion, the quantitative evaluation index system exposed the unbalanced development and significant potential relative to the target value of AGD in Quzhou County, despite notable progress.

    Jianjie ZHANG, Xiangwen FAN, Ling LIU, Lin MA, Zhaohai BAI, Wenqi MA

    ● Relationships between agricultural green development (AGD) and 10 UN SDGs are presented.

    ● Historical changes and characteristics of AGD in China are analyzed.

    ● Knowledge gaps in AGD indicators in China are identified.

    While agricultural green development (AGD) is highly recognized and has become a national strategy in China, it is imperative to bridge the knowledge gaps between AGD and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and to evaluate the contribution of AGD to meeting the SDGs. The first aim of this study was to compare the AGD goals and indicators with those of the SDGs so as to identify their relationship. The next aim was to examine the historical evolution of AGD indicators and analyze the gaps between the current status of various indicators and their benchmarks. Limiting factors were identified in China’s transition toward AGD. These findings reveal that the indicators of AGD align with those of the SDGs, but have greater specificity to the context in China and are more quantifiable. There has been a significant increase per capita calorie and protein intakes in China, as well as a notable rise in agricultural output per unit of arable land and rural incomes from 1980 to the 2010s. However, these achievements have been accompanied by a high resource use and environmental pollution, highlighting the need for a more sustainable, environmentally responsible agriculture in China.

    Tianxiang YU, Jichen ZHOU, Lin MA, Fusuo ZHANG, Zed RENGEL, William J. DAVIES, Jianbo SHEN

    ● Knowledge of the quantitative evaluation of changes in agriculture green development (AGD) is currently insufficient at the regional scale.

    ● Progress and potential pathways towards AGD in Hainan Province were assessed.

    ● The AGD index for Hainan Province improved from 38.8 in 1988 to 40.9 in 2019.

    ● Optimized nutrient management and diet structure improved the AGD index significantly.

    ● This approach can be used to assess the effects of future policies.

    The realization of green and sustainable development of agriculture is the common pursuit all over the world. Agriculture green development (AGD) program has been proposed as a sustainable development strategy in China, but insufficient is known about the quantitative evaluation of spatiotemporal variation in AGD at the regional scale. This study aimed to assess spatiotemporal patterns in AGD at the county/city-based regional level. For this purpose, a systematic index evaluation system was developed to assess the performance of socioeconomic, food production and environmental components in a key economic region (Hainan Province) of China. Hainan improved its AGD index (representing the overall performance toward achieving AGD) from 38.8 in 1988 to 40.9 in 2019. The socioeconomic development and agricultural productivity have improved with time; environmental quality declined due to overuse of chemicals from 1988 to 2013, but steadily improved after 2013, indicating positive effects of reducing chemical input. There was a higher AGD index in the coastal vs. central regions and the southern vs. northern regions. Scenarios featuring improved nutrient management or optimized diet structure and reduced waste improved economic benefits and social productivity while concurrently reducing environmental degradation. These results provide new insights for the future development of green and sustainable agriculture and formulation of agricultural policies in Hainan Province of China and even other developing countries that are facing or will soon face similar challenges.

    Kemo JIN, Nico HEERINK, William J. DAVIES, Jianbo SHEN, Yifeitong ZHANG, Yong HOU, Yaqiao ZHAO, Zhengxiong ZHAO, Fusuo ZHANG

    ● Challenges of agricultural development in the Erhai Lake basin.

    ● STB model promoting agricultural green transformation in Erhai Lake basin.

    ● Approach and impact of the Erhai STB in agriculture green development.

    ● Balancing farmer income with environmental goals.

    ● Erhai’s success: a blueprint for global sustainable farming.

    Balancing ecological preservation with sustainable agricultural practices is a global issue. Erhai Lake has felt this challenge keenly. To address it, in 2022, a Science and Technology Backyards (STBs) project was launched in Gusheng Village. The goal of this is to care for the environment while ensuring that farms and farmers can thrive sustainably. The uniqueness of the Erhai STB arises from its interdisciplinary integration, encompassing fields such as ecology, agronomy and social science, resulting in specifically-designed solutions for the Erhai context. While this model aligns with broader STB paradigms, its distinctive edge lies in technological innovation and robust support mechanisms for local agricultural stakeholders. This paper describes the methodology and outcomes of the STB initiative, highlighting its pivotal role in spearheading sustainable transition in Erhai. Preliminary findings underscore the potential of the STB model as an efficacious tool for harmonizing environmental conservation and agricultural practices, that are both financially and environmentally sustainable, rendering it a potential model for comparable regions in China and other counties.

    Fanlei MENG, Menru WANG, Yong HOU, Lin MA, Wenqi MA, Xuejun LIU, Fusuo ZHANG, Wen XU

    ● The framework of multi-objective nitrogen (N) management was developed.

    ● Multi-objective targets were established to support agriculture sustainable production.

    ● A food chain approach was developed to accurately quantify N flow in food system.

    ● “3R” principle was used in developing N management strategy.

    ● The collaboration with different stakeholders is crucial for promoting technologies.

    Nitrogen (N) is an essential nutrient for food production. The rapid increase in population requires high inputs of N to meet the growing food demand. If not managed well, the substantial loss of N from the food system has multiple impacts on grain yield, air and water pollution, and the economic benefits of agricultural. Multi-objective (food security, environmental sustainability and economic sustainability) synergistic consideration of N management in the food system is still lacking. This study employed strategies for optimizing N management in the food system, using Quzhou County as a typical example on the North China Plain. Firstly, a food chain approach was adopted to understand drivers and reasons behind N losses from the food system. Secondly, a top-down approach was used to define multi-objective N management, taking into consideration food security, environmental sustainability and economic sustainability. Multi-objective N management aims to reduce N losses to the environment and increase N use efficiencies, while simultaneously increasing yields and economic benefits. Thirdly, 3R (reduce-retain-recycle) N management strategies were identified for specific crops and animals through a bottom-up approach and then analyzed the potential of these strategies to achieve the multi-objectives. Finally, there is a discussion of how to engage different stakeholders to promote the technologies implementation. This study provides new insights into the synergistic achievement of multi-objective N management in the food system and the development of environmentally-friendly agriculture.

    Gang HE, Zhaohui WANG, Qichao ZHU, Jianbo SHEN, Fusuo ZHANG

    ● Ecological fragility and water shortage are key challenges in the Yellow River Basin.

    ● Efficient water use technology in drylands greatly increases crop production.

    ● Water-saving irrigation has been widely adopted and has greatly improved water use.

    ● Changing water use from unregulated and inefficient to intensive and efficient is key solution.

    ● Watershed-scale coordination is a key step towards agriculture green development.

    The Yellow River Basin is an important food production area and an ecological challenge for China, where environmental protection and water scarcity are the major constraints. For the upper reaches of the Yellow River Basin, optimizing the adoption of chemicals in agricultural production and integrating crops with livestock are the key strategies for protecting the eco-environment. For dryland agriculture in the middle and upper reaches, this study summarizes four aspects of efficient precipitation techniques in terms of collection, storage, conservation, and use, which have greatly improved crop yields and supported dryland crop production. Irrigated agriculture in the middle and lower reaches is the core area of China’s grain production, where the area under water-saving irrigation reached 13.0 Mha in 2018, greatly improving water use. Compared with 1998, cereal production in 2018 increased by 62.2 Mt under similar total water withdrawals (49.7 billion to 51.6 billion m3), and the annual soil erosion at the Tongguan Hydrological Observatory reduced by 584 million m3 in 2018, achieving great success in environmental protection and efficient water use. The Chinese government has set a goal for the Yellow River Basin to become the national leader in environmental protection and efficient water use by 2035. Such a high demand requires the combined efforts of the whole community, as well as the adoption of new technologies, coordinated basin-wide development, and adequate policy support.

    Lihua MA, Shiyang LI, Linfa FANG, Xuanjing CHEN, Ran XIAO, Xiaoxuan SU, Zhaolei LI, Zhaohai BAI, Lin MA, Prakash LAKSHMANAN, Xinping CHEN

    ● Cash crops and livestock production in Yangtze River Basin has grown rapidly.

    ● The agricultural inputs discharge multiple pollutants loads on water bodies in the YRB.

    ● Multiple pollutants impact on efficient utilization of nitrogen and phosphorus in agriculture.

    ● An explicitly multi-pollutant approach accounting for interactions is need.

    The rapid increase in the proportion of cash crops and livestock production in the Yangtze River Basin has led to commensurate increases in fertilizer and pesticide inputs. Excessive application of chemical fertilizer, organophosphorus pesticides and inappropriate disposal of agricultural waste induced water pollution and potentially threaten Agriculture Green Development (AGD). To ensure food security and the food supply capacity of the Yangtze River Basin, it is important to balance green and development, while ensuring the quality of water bodies. Multiple pollutants affect the transfer, adsorption, photolysis and degradation of each other throughout the soil-plant-water system. This paper considers the impact of multi-pollutants on the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles especially for crops, which are related to achieving food security and AGD. It presents prospective on theory, modeling and multi-pollutant control in the Yangtze River Basin for AGD that are of potential value for other developing regions.

    Xiaomeng ZHANG, Xiangwen FAN, Wenqi MA, Zhaohai BAI, Jiafa LUO, Jing YANG, Ling LIU, Jianjie ZHANG, Lin MA

    ● Development of a novel multi-indicator partition optimization method of nitrogen nutrient management.

    ● Calculation of multi-indicator environmental thresholds for ammonia volatilization, nitrogen surplus and soil carrying capacity in various regions within the basin.

    ● Recommendation of various regional spatial optimization methods to enhance nutrient management in crop–livestock systems.

    Although China has achieved great advancements toward national food security, the country is still confronted with a range of challenges, including natural resource stress, imbalanced diets and environmental pollution. Optimized management of crop–livestock systems is the key measure to realize agricultural green transformation. However, optimized management of crop–livestock systems that use multi-objective zoning is lacking. This study employed a multi-objective zoning management approach to comprehensively analyze four indicators: ammonia volatilization, nitrogen surplus, soil carrying capacity and ecological red line area. With its significant ecological integrity and a strong emphasis on sustainability, the Baiyangdian Basin serves as a unique and suitable test case for conducting analyses on multi-objective nutrient optimization management, with the aim to facilitate the agricultural green transformation. This study finds that less than 8% of the area in the Baiyangdian Basin meet the acceptable environmental indicator standard, whereas around 50% of the area that had both nitrogen surplus and ammonia volatilization exceeded the threshold. Implementation of unified management, that is, the same management technique across the study areas, could result in an increase of areas meeting environmental indicator thresholds to 21.1%. This project developed a novel multi-indicator partition optimization method, in which distinct measures are tailored for different areas to satisfy multiple environmental indicators. Implementation of this method, could potentially bring more than 50% area below the threshold, and areas with ammonia emissions and nitrogen surplus could be reduced to 15.8%. The multi-indicators partition optimization method represents a more advanced and efficiency-oriented management approach when compared to unified management. This approach could be regarded as the best available option to help China achieve agricultural transformation to improve efficient production and reduce environmental pollution. It is recommended that current policies aimed at nutrient management toward sustainable agricultural development should shift toward the application of multi-indicators partition optimization.

    Samuel J. CUSWORTH, William J. DAVIES, Martin R. MCAINSH, Carly J. STEVENS, Weilu WANG

    ● Macro-, micro- and nanoplastic pollution in agricultural soils threaten long-term crop production and environmental health in China.

    ● Resolving the existing issues with plasticulture in China requires holistic solutions that target plastic production, use and waste management.

    ● Mechanisms for change must focus on education, incentivization and the development of infrastructure to positively reinforce the procurement, management and disposal of agriplastics.

    ● The sustainable intensification of plasticulture in Chinese agricultural production systems is key to achieving long-term food and eco-security in China.

    Plastic pollution is global concern, affecting most aspects of global food production systems. Plasticulture, a practice used in agriculture to improve crop quality and quantity, among other factors, is a significant source of plastic pollution. This review examines the extent of plasticulture in China, the implications of the practice across decades of use and the legislative instruments used to resolve those issues. It briefly assesses the effectiveness of these policies and proposes possible future innovations to promote increases in long-term food and eco-security, where sustainable plasticulture is a key agent for change. While plasticulture has increased agricultural productivity in growth-limiting conditions, plastic pollution in agricultural soils has become acute in China. Consequently, plastic pollution is having deleterious effects on soil health and in turn, crop productivity in China. Plastic pollution in agriculture is a multifaceted issue and so proposed solutions should be informed by this complexity. Current measures do not reflect a holistic approach to solving this socioecological challenge and adopt a top-down approach, with little or no supportive mechanisms. Future recommendations need to consider the particular set of conditions that influence the production, use and end-of-life management of agriplastics, specific to the environmental, economic and social conditions in each location.

    Arnauld THIRY, William J. DAVIES, Ian C. DODD

    ● Score index methods readily discriminate genotypes adapted to a target environment.

    ● New quantitative method evaluated productivity and resilience of rice genotypes.

    ● Method identified A genotypes (high productivity and resilience) of Fernandez (1992).

    ● Method identified genotypes better adapted to reduced soil water conditions.

    ● Method can enhance rice sustainability (high productivity, low water use).

    In Asia, the rice crop sustains millions of people. However, growing demand for this crop needs to be met while simultaneously reducing its water consumption to cope with the effects of climate change. Lowland cropping systems are the most common and productive but have particularly high water requirements. High-yielding rice genotypes adapted to drier environments (such as rainfed or aerobic rice ecosystems) are needed to increase the water use efficiency of cropping. Identifying these genotypes requires fast and more accurate selection methods. It is hypothesized that applying a new quantitative selection method (the score index selection method), can usefully compare rice yield responses over different years and stress intensities to select genotypes more rapidly and efficiently. Applying the score index to previously published rice yield data for 39 genotypes grown in no-stress and two stress environments, identified three genotypes (ARB 8, IR55419-04 and ARB 7) with higher and stable yield under moderate to severe stress conditions. These genotypes are postulated to be better adapted to stress environment such as upland and aerobic environments. Importantly, the score index selection method offers improved precision than the conventional breeding selection method in identifying genotypes that are well-suited to a range of stress levels within the target environment.

    Maoying WANG, Lingyun CHENG, Chengdong HUANG, Yang LYU, Lin ZHANG, Zhenya LU, Changzhou WEI, Wenqi MA, Zed RENGEL, Jianbo SHEN, Fusuo ZHANG

    ● The pursuit of green development faces challenges of environmental impacts and low resource-use efficiency in fertilizer production.

    ● Green intelligent fertilizers can be designed to harness the synergy among plants, soils, microorganisms, nutrient sources and the environment.

    ● New strategies are proposed to align with the principles of green development in both industry and agriculture.

    ● Green intelligent fertilizers highlight a path toward harmonizing fertilizer production with the imperatives of green agriculture.

    This review addresses the growing disparity between the current state of fertilizer production in China and the evolving demands of green agriculture in the 21st century. It explores major advances in fertilizers, proposes the concept of green intelligent fertilizers and develops new strategies aligned with the principles of green development in fertilizer industry and agriculture. Green intelligent fertilizers may be designed to maximize the synergistic effects among plants, soils, microorganisms, nutrient sources and the environment. This concept emphasizes the integration of industry and agriculture toward green development for entire industry chain, using an interdisciplinary approach to drive the green transformation of fertilizer industry, and promote green and sustainable development of agriculture. By bridging the gap between the current state of fertilizer industry and a growing need for environmentally responsible agricultural practices, this review highlights a path toward harmonizing fertilizer production with the imperatives of green agriculture.

    Xiangwen FAN, Xiaomeng ZHANG, Xiaofei WU, Wenqi MA, Zhaohai BAI, Lin MA

    ● Utilizing optimization technology in crop and livestock systems can enhance food production.

    ● Numerous technologies have the potential to contribute to the mitigation of environmental impacts within food systems.

    ● Three potential pathways are proposed that could transform the current food system to align with SDGs and agricultural green development.

    A recent UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) analysis indicated a significant regression in the global SDG goal scores, particularly in SDG 2—Zero Hunger. The emissions of environmental pollution caused by meeting food demands have prompted some countries to intensify their climate change mitigation efforts. These circumstances have introduced significant uncertainty to the future global sustainable food development. Additionally, a notable global challenge is the persistence of hidden hunger, primarily characterized by the insufficient consumption of high-quality animal protein. Addressing this issue would necessitate increased environmental costs to attain high-quality food security. The future food system presents a significant challenge in coordinating food security, food quality and environmental quality. This article presents a comprehensive review and proposes a three-step strategy for future agricultural development based on food security, quality, and environmental aspects. This is a novel food system transfer strategy, as it concurrently addresses both global food security and environmental thresholds. It involves the construction of an efficient food system that operates within the constraints of environmental limits. The objective is to align with global SDG indicators and to maintain natural resource consumption and pollutant emissions within planetary boundaries.

    Tianzuo ZHANG