For the past three decades an onslaught of urban development, desertification, and pollution has been eating away at China’s once-endless sprawl of tiny farms. China is facing radical challenge to feed its large population. “You have urbanization — people travel abroad,” says Susan Chan Shifflett, China Environment Forum’s associate. “They go to France, they see cheese, and they think, ‘why can’t I have brie in China?’ They’re changing their diets — meat consumption has quadrupled over the past 30 years.”

However, China must feed a fifth of the world’s population with about 7% of its arable land, according to the UN’s food and agriculture organization, and nearly half of that land has been “degraded” by decades of unchecked development. “It’s a zero-sum game,” said Shifflett. “You have less and less resources, but more and more people who need them.”

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