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«Juanwen Yuan Thesis committee Thesis supervisor Prof. dr. A. Niehof Professor of Sociology of Consumers and Households Wageningen University Thesis ...»

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Livelihood, migration and land use In the collective era and in the early stages of the implementation of the HRS, most households had food security problems. Villagers had to borrow food from the collective, relatives or friends to solve their problems. Villagers had no autonomy to arrange their own livelihood and to use their own resources to improve their life at that time. They only worked for the collective and had a small parcel of home garden to cultivate. Households had similar resources for generating their livelihood. Since the HRS, each household makes its living based on its own management, which for many households led to an increase of agricultural production. Encouraged by a large urban-rural income gap (Zhu, 2001), temporary migration increasingly became an attractive option for villagers to add to their farming income. The hukou registration system, however, is considered a barrier for rural villagers to live in urban areas for longer periods or permanently (Christiansen, 1990). To some extent, this is confirmed by this study. For example, because of having no hukou in the place people migrate to, their medical insurance does not apply there. However, most migrants said they lack the skills needed to earn a living in urban areas and confessed they are not used to life in these new places. They said they miss their hometown and life in the village, where they still have their permanent household registration (hukou). They expect to come back to the village for farming some day. As Andersson (2001) has indicated, rural-urban migration is not just an economic connection but also has social and cultural meanings. Most migrants come back yearly for the Chinese Spring Festival, to enjoy a family reunion. Thus, besides the hukou registration system, many other factors also influence the villagers’ migration pattern. Perhaps the views and feelings of unmarried villagers are different, but we did not include them in our study.

Livelihood strategies are increasingly diversified. In the collective era, migration was controlled and managed by the collective. Since the implementation of the HRS, many policies were issued to promote rural development. The improved economic situation in China gives households the chance to diversify their livelihood strategies and make a living by using its own strengths and resources, and by responding to new opportunities. It shows the mediating agency of households (cf Pennartz and Niehof, 1999) in a context of social change. Social resources remain crucial for household livelihood strategies because the formal support from the government is decreasing. The diversification of livelihood portfolios causes an increase in the social and economic stratification, which is good for development in China. Yet, it should be avoided that the gaps between strata become too big (Ni, 2005; Yu, 2003). In rural China, household stratification is based on the situation that all farming households have land, which is the basis of both their food security and their social security (Ni, 2003). The socio-economic gaps were bigger at the early stages of the HRS’s implementation than they are now. Since livelihood choices and options have increased, households have more opportunities to develop their own strategies. This has narrowed the economic gaps, while the occupational differentiation is increasing.

Land use is changing; more land is abandoned or transferred. Households have diversified their land use, influenced by the HRS, migration, and household resources. The land is fragmented because of land allocation at the household level

209Conclusions and Discussion

and the fact that redistribution at the village level has never taken place. Land still provides a form of social security for the farmer, even if the plot is small. In the current situation, villagers may rent out land, but they do not want to give it up completely. Migrants still maintain relations with their rural area of origin, not only for economic purposes but also for socio-cultural reasons (Andersson, 2001).

Limited municipal development is good for migrants in Guizhou province, because it is easier for them to live and keep their own culture in small towns than in big cities.

10.4.2 Social change and stratification The average household size is smaller compared to its size during the collective era and the number of nuclear-family households is increasing.

Meanwhile, migration makes household boundaries more flexible. In this situation, the support given by the older generation to their adult children is very important.

Kinship is very helpful in a changing society, as Moore (1988) has indicated.

Migration provides households with small landholdings with opportunities to earn cash, leading to diversified livelihood portfolios. These can help farming households to improve life. People are dealt unequal opportunities for development to begin with, but diversity brings them more chances, even if these are not equal. Yet, migration does not give migrants the chance to learn practical agricultural skills, because they work in non-farming sectors. Younger cohorts do not gain agricultural skills through migration. Even if the government is promoting urbanization and land transferral, few households would like to give up their land completely and move to the city. Some migrants already came back to engage in trading, running small businesses in their hometown. Both on-farm and off-farm activities are still part of the livelihood strategy of most villagers, so the government should promote local rural industry and limited municipal development. In this way, it would help rural households to earn money from nonfarm activities and take care of agricultural production at the same time. Outside the peak season, villagers are pushed into off-farm and non-farm activities. Useful skill training is necessary for migrants to help them with their work when they return. Women have a lot of experience in marketing and will play an important role in the future urbanization process. In the study area, a trend can be observed that when husband and wife migrate together, they may transfer or abandon their land. This phenomenon, of which the implications are yet unclear, merits more attention.





Zhang and Song (2003) have argued that interprovincial migrants were encouraged by the rural-urban gap and discouraged by geographic distances, but people from the poor villages in western China would like to migrate to coastal areas, even if these are far away. It is necessary to reduce regional disparities. This research mentions that younger people migrate long-distance because their destination town offers a higher income and more opportunities, while older people prefer to do local circular work, which enables them to earn money and look after agricultural production as well. If the government adopts better policies to reduce regional disparities, like promoting rural industrial development, then land abandonment will decrease. Liu (2008b) has found that enhancing educational opportunities can reduce rural-urban migration because people who are rich in 210

Chapter 10

human resources migrate less. However, if agriculture is still so unprofitable, migration will not decrease, but the development of small towns can help to reduce long-term, long-distance migration. This research shows that household heads of non-migrant households have a higher education than others. A reason for this may be that male household heads of the 1990s cohorts have a higher education and migrate less than male household heads of the 2000s cohorts. Male household heads from the 1970s and 1980s cohorts have the lowest education, but they also migrate. Apparently, we may conclude, there is no straightforward relationship between education and migration.

Agriculture is becoming increasingly less important. The yields of the main agricultural crops do not show big differences, because money investments in agriculture have increased on the one hand, but the abandonment of land is increasing on the other. Mallee (1996) has said that migration has both positive and negative impacts on agricultural production in China, unlike Burkina Faso, where neither a positive nor a negative impact of continental migration on agriculture can be observed (Wouterse and Taylor, 2008). However, more attention should be paid to the elderly people, who are still interested in learning agricultural technologies, even though they have a low level of formal education. They have practical experience and their work keeps agricultural production alive and sustainable. At the same time, the new generation views agriculture differently and wants to grow cash crops. They have more modern ideas because of their migration (especially long-term migration) experience. In order to achieve a sustainable agricultural development, the extension agencies should consider the different kinds of knowledge and interests of younger and older cohorts. Female-headed households need labour-saving technologies and small machines. Extension officers should support a number of key people in the village, to help them transfer knowledge and organize self-help groups among the farmers. The Farmer Field School (FFS) educates rather than instructs and is good for farmers who have little, if any, formal schooling.

With regard to gender, the general trend is that men and women are considered more equal than before. However, a wife is still supposed to give up her own preferences when necessary. The implementation of the HRS has provided men and women with different opportunities. Women may migrate for the welfare of the household, but should also be prepared to return anytime to look after their children, parents, and land. When it comes to influencing household land use, women are definitely the most important people, because men give more attention to migration. This makes women the key figures in rural society. They organize themselves in different kinds of informal groups, but formally, their role in the public domain is still not fully accepted. There is no causal linkage between economic development and women’s political participation (Guo et al., 2009), and women’s participation in community affairs needs to be strongly supported.

All these factors are interrelated; household change influences the household resource base, leading to livelihood changes; livelihood changes bring about social stratification; social stratification affects household livelihood strategies; changes in livelihood strategies change the resources the different households have at their disposal, thereby changing households again. The research reveals the significance for households in the study area of gaining land

211Conclusions and Discussion

use rights upon the implementation of the HRS. While land is considered to be a form of social insurance, because of the migration factor, landholding per capita does not necessarily translate into more household income. In this respect, the situation in the study area is different from that in poverty-stricken areas elsewhere in Guizhou, where landholding per capita and household income are positively related (Xing et al., 2008). The delocalizations of livelihoods in the rural South causes rural livelihoods to become increasingly divorced from farming, implying that the active pro-poor development in the rural South should be reconsidered (Rigg, 2006).

The household livelihood diversification may narrow the income gap between the rural rich and poor (Niehof, 2004). Ellis’s observation (2000) that diversification provides better opportunities to those who are already better off is only one side of the coin. In this research, we observed that, at the beginning of the HRS’s implementation, the differences in household income were broadened because only a few households could afford higher agricultural inputs, had bigger landholdings, or could start up small businesses. Later on, migration (especially long-term migration) options gave farming households similar opportunities to earn cash. Their income from migration does not differ very much because they have the same (lack of) skills for non-farm work. Nowadays, income from land accounts for less of a households’ income, and there is a stagnation or decline of farm output. The changes are obvious these past several years. Although government policies have always played a strong role in rural development in China, different households use the policies in different ways to make a living.

We may conclude that land is still an important resource for rural people.

Another conclusion is that men and women are more equal than they were in the past. Social stratification is a dynamic factor in rural development. Households use their own resources to diversify their livelihood strategies and the income gap is narrowing. Fertility rates and family size have declined because of the land allocation policy, the changed value of children, and young women having the power to make their own decisions. Extension activities and policy makers should not forget the older cohorts, who are the main agricultural producers. As long as the policies prevent migrants from settling down in urban areas, they will return to agricultural production when they are old. Women and elderly people are the key actors in rural society. Those working in agricultural extension and other community development interventions need to think about household dynamics and power structures, and they need to pay attention to women. Participatory approaches that treat households and communities as unitary and homogeneous are not likely to be successful (Cleaver, 1999).

10.5 Final notes on methodology

Social change is always difficult to study. Kertzer (1991) has used the life course approach to see how people's reactions to change affect the larger societal forces, which in turn influence the course of social change and individual lives. Broad economic, political, social, and cultural developments affect individual behaviour and are affected by individual and group actions. The ACWF (1991) has discussed

212 Chapter 10



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