Human Ecology

, Volume 46, Issue 6, pp 875–886 | Cite as

Characterizing Rural Household Differentiation from the Perspective of Farmland Transfer in Eastern China Using an Agent Based Model

  • Xiao Chang
  • Liming LiuEmail author


Over the past several decades in China there has been a large amount of rural labor flow to non-farm industries as well as an increase in farmland transfers that have resulted in significant differentiation of farmer households and changes in agricultural land use pattern. For this study we developed an agent-based model to explore this process and the resulting concentration of agricultural production by characterizing the households’ decision-making behavior with respect to farmland transfer in Jinze Town, located in the developed eastern region in China. The model simulated the household agents’ farmland transfer behavior, reproduced the evolution and differentiation of household agents, and explored changes of farm area distribution across household types from 2005 to 2020. Small households, the dominant demographic as well the main agricultural producers at the beginning of the simulation, decreased radically and cultivated the smallest area of farmland by the end. In contrast, large-scale farming households increased rapidly and became the main agricultural producers. The majority of households entirely exited farming in favor of urban employment. We examine how farm households’ attributes influence their farmland transfer behavior and subsequent livelihood choices in the specific socioeconomic and political context in the research region. We conclude with policy suggestions for the provision of a favorable environment for both large-scale farm households and those who leave farming altogether. Our findings can provide references for land use policies in other transitional rural areas.


Farm households Differentiation Agent-based model Farmland transfers Rural China Jinze town 



We would like to thank the National Natural Science Foundation of China for its support of our project.


This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41130526).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10745_2018_35_MOESM1_ESM.docx (34 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 33 kb)
10745_2018_35_MOESM2_ESM.docx (164 kb)
ESM 2 (DOCX 164 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Land Resources ManagementChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingChina

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