, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 81-92

Social connectedness in marginal rural China: The case of farmer innovation circles in Zhidan, north Shaanxi

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The intrinsic dynamics andinnovative potential of the rural poor in Chinacan be illustrated by the phenomena of farmerinnovation circles (FIC) in north Shaanxi.These are informal networks used by farmers tocollaborate on technology learning andagricultural production. Though not limited tospecific geographic locations, these circlesare particularly important in the marginalareas of rural China where the complexity ofthe geographic environment, the diversity offarmer demands, and the inefficiency of formalagricultural extension networks impede thespread of new agricultural technologies. Socialconnectedness in the form of householdcommunication networks, technology learninggroups, and inter-village links aids people's collective capacity to work together. In thestudy of 50 villages in this remote region, itwas found that households with more connectionswere more likely to adopt a range of newtechnologies (ploughs, varieties, inputs,orchards, afforestation, grazing landrehabilitation), and so had higher income. Adetailed case study shows how collective actioncan lead to environmental improvements thatfurther increase incomes. It is concluded thatif there is to be sustainable development inthe marginal areas of China, then there willclearly need to be closer communication andinteraction between agricultural professionalsand rural communities.