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Journal of Arid Land  2020, Vol. 12 Issue (1): 18-28    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-020-0091-9
Research article     
Crop production changes and the impact of Grain for Green program in the Loess Plateau of China
LYU Changhe1,2,*(), XU Zhiyuan1,2,3
1 Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
2 College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
3 Institute of Rural Development, Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Hangzhou 310021, China
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Since the Grain for Green (GFG) program was implemented in 1999, most steeply sloping farmlands in the Loess Plateau of China have been returned to forestland and grassland. To understand its impact on the food production, this study analyzed the spatiotemporal changes of food crop production (FCP) in the plateau and quantified the contribution of sown area and yield changes to the total FCP during 1998-2014 using factor decomposition models, and then discussed the impact of GFG program on the FCP based on literature data. With the implementation of GFG program, total sown area in the Loess Plateau quickly deceased by 17.3% from 1998 to 2003, and then gradually restored to 1.03×107 hm2 in 2010. Thereafter, it slightly decreased to 1.02×107 hm2 (94.6% of the area in 1998) in 2014. By contrast, total FCP generally showed an apparent growth trend, averagely increased by 1.71% per year in the whole plateau during 1998-2014. This increase was jointly contributed by the improved yield of individual crops, and the adjustment of cropping structure, i.e., the expansion of high yield maize crop. The factor decomposition analysis results indicate that the sown area shrinkage only reduced the growth rate of total FCP by 0.29% per year during 1998-2014, although a significant impact was found for the early stage of 1999-2003. The results suggest that the implementation of GFG program would not induce an obvious risk of the food security. Therefore, it is suggested that the GFG program should be set as a long-term strategic policy, by not only supporting the conversion of slope farmlands, but also helping local farmers to seek sustainable ways of land use to improve the income and livelihood. It can be combined with the poverty eradication program, to simultaneously achieve the national goals of ecological civilization building and the livelihood improvement of rural people in the Loess Plateau. Considering rainfall limitation, the conversion of slope farmlands should be prioritized to grasslands.

Key wordsspatiotemporal change      farmland conversion      hilly region      factor decomposition      semi-arid regions     
Received: 11 December 2018      Published: 10 February 2020
Corresponding Authors: Changhe LYU     E-mail:
About author: *Corresponding author: LYU Changhe (E-mail:
Cite this article:

LYU Changhe, XU Zhiyuan. Crop production changes and the impact of Grain for Green program in the Loess Plateau of China. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(1): 18-28.

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Fig. 1 Location of the Chinese Loess Plateau and its hilly region
Fig. 2 Annual variation of the total food crop production (FCP), mean crop yield and total crop sown area during 1998-2014 in the whole Loess Plateau (a) and the hilly region (b). The FCP and mean crop yield were converted to wheat equivalent.
Fig. 3 Spatial variation of total crop sown area changes in the Loess Plateau between 1998 and 2014
Fig. 4 Spatial distribution of annual growth rate of total FCP in the Loess Plateau during 1998-2014
Loess Plateau Period Annual growth rate of total FCP (%)
Total Induced by changes in
Yield Sown area
Whole region 1998-2003 -1.61 1.50 -3.11
2003-2010 3.58 1.74 1.84
2010-2014 2.04 2.22 -0.19
1998-2014 1.71 2.00 -0.29
Hilly region 1998-2003 -1.21 2.00 -3.21
2003-2010 3.18 1.91 1.27
2010-2014 1.97 2.22 -0.25
1998-2014 1.65 2.26 -0.61
Table 1 Annual growth rate of total FCP and the contributions by the changes in yield and crop sown area in the whole and hilly region of the Loess Plateau
Loess Plateau Period Annual growth rate of yield (%) Annual growth rate of sown area (%)
W Ma S P Mi W Ma S P Mi
Whole region 1998-2003 -0.96 -0.44 2.43 3.61 8.52 -3.80 0.95 -3.73 2.06 -11.62
2003-2010 2.90 1.38 1.78 -1.56 -3.12 -0.96 4.87 -0.30 2.15 2.60
2010-2014 1.32 1.16 1.17 2.94 7.57 -2.54 2.03 -4.32 -0.46 0.10
1998-2014 1.41 0.83 2.04 1.41 3.76 -2.54 3.23 -2.73 1.60 -2.85
Hilly region 1998-2003 0.45 0.03 4.01 5.39 6.34 -4.29 -0.77 -2.57 3.11 -8.75
2003-2010 3.36 1.69 1.95 -1.09 -0.47 -1.64 4.71 -0.07 2.69 0.92
2010-2014 1.53 1.29 1.36 3.20 2.62 -2.29 2.28 -3.01 -0.11 -2.07
1998-2014 2.19 1.19 2.73 2.33 2.79 -2.96 2.61 -1.83 2.33 -3.26
Table 2 Yield and sown area changes of the major crops during different stages in the whole and hilly region of the Loess Plateau
Period A (%) Contributed by yield changes (%) Contributed by changes in cropping structure (%)
T W Ma S P Mi T W Ma S P Mi
Whole region of the Loess Plateau
1998-2003 1.53 40.70 -31.12 -13.71 6.20 23.94 55.39 59.30 -17.30 121.00 -1.85 31.45 -73.99
2003-2010 1.99 63.24 46.55 40.86 3.17 -9.64 -17.70 36.62 -47.77 86.40 -4.24 1.80 0.43
2010-2014 1.86 74.30 10.42 29.74 1.71 12.04 20.40 25.88 -25.52 57.68 -5.57 -1.26 0.54
1998-2014 2.01 62.00 15.29 24.58 3.30 5.93 12.89 38.00 -32.80 84.01 -4.21 7.07 -16.08
Hilly region of the Loess Plateau
1998-2003 2.05 66.72 -5.94 -9.76 10.17 38.81 33.44 33.12 -23.35 53.54 1.71 42.80 -41.58
2003-2010 2.17 64.82 37.94 39.39 4.74 -10.01 -7.25 35.24 -42.29 79.64 -3.69 11.66 -10.08
2010-2014 1.85 72.25 10.45 29.64 2.70 20.99 8.47 27.93 -20.00 59.37 -5.50 0.72 -6.67
1998-2014 2.27 67.64 17.24 23.57 5.34 12.99 8.50 32.38 -29.69 66.74 -2.98 15.06 -16.75
Table 3 Contributions of individual crop yield and sown area to mean crop yield changes in the whole and hilly region of the Loess Plateau
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