Farmer Cooperatives and the Limits of Agricultural Reform in Rural Hubei

Wilmsen, Brooke, Rogers, Sarah, Duan, Yuefang, and Wang, Zoe Ju-Han (2023) Farmer Cooperatives and the Limits of Agricultural Reform in Rural Hubei. The China Journal, 89.

[img] PDF (Published Version) - Published Version
Restricted to Repository staff only

View at Publisher Website:


There has been remarkable growth in the number of cooperatives in China in the past decade. This article asks: what role are cooperatives playing in driving China’s ambitious agricultural reforms? The scholarly literature describes farmer cooperatives as either an important entity for progressing China’s rural modernization agenda, a vehicle of exploitation and dispossession of smallholder farmers, or evidence of broader commitment to grassroots solidarity. Despite the rapid expansion of farmer cooperatives, the role that they play in the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in places where agriculture remains central and out-migration is low is poorly understood. To explore this, in 2019 we conducted a survey of 266 households in the mountains of Hubei Province. To illuminate the politics and dynamics on the ground, we followed up by conducting in-depth interviews with agribusinesses, cooperatives, households, and local government officials. Our findings suggest that although cooperatives are attempting to engage with smallholders, they are neither integrating nor exploiting them. While seemingly innocuous to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, these entities serve a mostly political function, and it is in these dynamics that we observe the limits of agricultural reform. Where smallholder production is lucrative, land is valuable, and out-migration is minimal, local government appears to be “performing” reform, without forcing it on smallholders and thereby harming the local economy or risking social unrest.

Item ID: 77514
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1835-8535
Copyright Information: © 2022 The Australian National University. All rights reserved.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC DP180100519
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2023 00:32
FoR Codes: 44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4406 Human geography > 440602 Development geography @ 60%
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4404 Development studies > 440404 Political economy and social change @ 30%
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4499 Other human society > 449901 Studies of Asian society @ 10%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280123 Expanding knowledge in human society @ 100%
Downloads: Total: 4
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page