The evolutionary path of food consumption against the backdrop of urbanization: China’s experience

HU Bingchuan1 ZHOU Zhujun2

(1.Rural Development Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
(2.China Grain Research and Training Center)

【Abstract】China has begun its unprecedented process of urbanization ever since the reform and opening-up. In this process, the total amount of food consumption has been growing rapidly, and the structure of food consumption has been upgrading constantly. According to data of provincial urban and rural consumption in China during 1995–2012, food consumption was characterized by not only regional features, but also gradual spatial progress, which provided a sample for studying evolution of food consumption in China. In this paper, characteristics of food consumption at different time were estimated by using the QUAIDS model, in which income effects and migrational effects were separated in the evolutionary path of food consumption. Considering the growth-stability mechanism with gradual progress existing in food consumption in time and in space, specific scenarios of the peak of food consumption in China were stimulated according to conditions set exogenously for the year of 2030. The analysis showed that pressure on production and import brought by the peak of food consumption was acceptable. Based on the analytical results, it is suggested that the current policies supporting agriculture in China are necessary to adjust in order to adapt to changes in food consumption in the future.

【Keywords】 urbanization; food consumption; the growth-stability mechanism; income effects; migrational effects;


【Funds】 Supported by Major Project of National Social Science Fund of China (12&ZD056) the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71373284)

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(Translated by ZHANG Wei)


    [1]. ① Strictly speaking, food products refer to processed food which can be eaten directly. There are certain differences between food products and food as far as concepts are concerned. However, these two terms can be used at the same time in this article for smoothness of content as they imply the same concept. [^Back]

    [2]. ② The Engel’s coefficient is an important indicator for the decline of the proportion of the budget for food. [^Back]

    [3]. ③ FAO Statistical Pocketbook 2015, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2015 [^Back]

    [4]. ① In fact, there is a third kind of effects, namely, interactive effects caused by income effects and migrational effects interacting with each other. [^Back]

    [5]. ② Due to regional differences, in some cities, increases in food consumption are still driven by income effects. [^Back]

    [6]. ① Detailed results are not presented here. [^Back]

    [7]. ② Meat and aquatic products have elasticity of consumption higher than 1, which is related to the data. At the same time, it is also one important reason to keep China’s Engel’s coefficients stable in the last few years. Other food products, such as vegetables consumed by rural residents, also have elasticity of consumption higher than 1. Such a situation occurred because vegetables consumed by rural residents are not considered as commodities. In other words, from the perspective of keeping accounts of the samples, vegetables consumed by farmers are often produced by themselves, which results in that vegetables' elasticity of consumption is overestimated based on the market price. In fact, based on existing studies, not only edible vegetable oil, meat, eggs, and aquatic products have high degrees of commercialization, but also grain consumed in rural areas is highly commercialized. Therefore, it can be found that after the degree of commercialization increases for vegetables consumed by rural residents, elasticity of vegetables consumed by rural residents should be consistent with that by urban residents. In other words, as the degree of commercialization increases, elasticity of vegetables consumed by rural residents will show rigidity. [^Back]

    [8]. ③ The comparison belongs to the empirical judgment, not the technical judgment. [^Back]

    [9]. ④ The coefficient of elasticity is used as the indicator for measuring features at different time in different regions. [^Back]

    [10]. ⑤ Due to a large number of provinces involved and the relatively wide time span, if too many dummy variables are used in the regression, not only the degree of freedom will be sacrificed to a large extent, but also no help will be provided for the whole analysis. Therefore, elasticity of food consumption in each province of each year is used as the proxy variable of time and regions. Moreover, specifically, elasticity of food consumption 1 denotes grain, 2 represents edible vegetable oil, 3 represents meat, 4 represents eggs, 5 represents aquatic products, and 6 represents vegetables. [^Back]

    [11]. ⑥ It should be noted that in the regression models for meat, aquatic products and vegetables, there is no square of incomes or interaction terms between the urban-rural difference and elasticity of expenditure. The reasons have been explained in the above and will not be repeated here. [^Back]

    [12]. ① The per-capita income of the whole society is the mean value of disposable per-capita income of urban residents and per-capita net income of rural residents. [^Back]

    [13]. ② In this article, the quadratic function is used to simulate the half of the increase and decrease in the function. Reversions after the extremum are not taken into account. [^Back]

    [14]. ③ These results are mainly affected by the underestimation of eggs consumed by rural residents. Therefore, the peak of eggs consumption occurs when the per-capita income reaches a high level of CNY 50,000. However, this does not affect the evaluation of marginal effects. [^Back]

    [15]. ④ It is calculated according to the ratio of 2:1 and the same below. [^Back]

    [16]. ① The simple approximation is calculated here and the same below. [^Back]

    [17]. ② Similar to consumption of vegetables, statistical data of eggs consumed by rural residents also have certain deviation. [^Back]

    [18]. ③ If the constraining effect of prices is taken into account, balance models need to be used for the estimation. This assumption is also consistent with the necessary logic of economic growth. In other words, the Engel’s coefficient keeps decreasing. [^Back]

    [19]. ① Because data of the household survey carried out by the State Statistics Bureau of the People's Republic of China are accounting data, consumption data have not included the expenditure for dining out. And there are some technical errors in the survey. Food consumption has been underestimated to a certain degree. However, this does not affect estimating the amount of consumption. [^Back]

    [20]. ② The per-capita income in China in 2023 will be about CNY 50,000. [^Back]

    [21]. ③ It is calculated by multiplying the population difference between urban and rural areas with the per-capita migrational effects. [^Back]

    [22]. ① Because the effect of elasticity of expenditure on eggs is taken into account, then, the growth in egg consumption will decrease in general in the forecast. [^Back]

    [23]. ② The output of meat is close to the amount of meat consumed. Herein the output is considered as the amount of consumption and the same below. [^Back]

    [24]. ③ ChinaJCI’s website is [^Back]

    [25]. ④ In the light of an enlargement of the same ratio with soybean oil, the increase in the amount of edible vegetable oil is calculated by converting into that of soybeans. [^Back]

    [26]. ⑤ Because the amount of soybeans and soybean oil produced domestically only take a small percentage of the total amount of pressed oil, the amount of import has been used as the amount of demand so far. [^Back]

    [27]. ⑥ Here only the impacts of income effects and migrational effects are considered. [^Back]


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This Article


CN: 11-3586/F

Vol , No. 06, Pages 2-14+94

November 2015


Article Outline


  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Literature review
  • 3 The path along which food consumption evolves: income effects and migrational effects
  • 4 The trend of increases in food consumption: a forecast based on a scenario
  • 5 Conclusions and discussion
  • Footnote