China is launching a large-scale agricultural robotization program, which one day could lead to many of the country's 250 million farmers being left without work.
China has launched a pilot program to replace farmers with robots, leaving millions of people at risk of losing their jobs. The seven-year pilot project, which began work in Jiangsu, allows the use of unmanned tractors, robots for pesticide processing of plantations and harvesting in rice cultivation. The tested technologies significantly reduce the human factor in crop production, increase productivity and reduce the cost of production.
With the growth of automated agriculture, China can achieve higher savings and reduce the amount of fertilizers and pesticides used, because machines accurately determine where and how much agricultural chemistry should be used. But increased automation means fewer farmers find work. Although the share of Chinese agricultural labor has declined - from 55% in 1991 to 18% in 2017 - about 250 million people are still farmers. And many of them run the risk of losing their jobs if robotics spread everywhere. China's rising incomes forced urban residents to consume significantly more milk and dairy products than in the past.
The subsistence supply of 1,4 billion people in China is also complicated by urbanization, which has eliminated millions of hectares of arable land. According to Bloomberg, about 20% of the remaining land is contaminated with heavy metals from industrial production. Now, small Chinese farmers are threatened by competition from large holdings, where tireless robots work instead of people. However, some experts consider the panic to be premature. Agricultural automation in China could create new jobs in other areas.
While robots will take on many tasks, people will still have to program, regulate, maintain and repair them. But it will be completely different farmers than ordinary farmers, more educated and modern.
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