Gaoming Jiang: Why Has Agricultural Non-point Source Pollution Become the Biggest Source of Pollution in China?
2023/6/12 11:47:00 本站

Editor's note: Agricultural Non-Point Source Pollution (ANPSP) refers to the contamination of water, soil, and air by pollutants that originate from diffuse sources within agricultural landscapes. Unlike point source pollution, which comes from specific, identifiable discharge points such as industrial pipes, non-point source pollution is caused by the collective impacts of various agricultural activities dispersed across a wide area. On June 11th, Professor JIANG Gaoming, a famous expert in ecological agriculture, shared his latest thoughts on agriculture.

Although Professor Jiang's outspokenness and frankness have made him unpopular among many in the modern agricultural industry, he is considered a Chinese Idol in China's ecological agriculture community. He highly recognizes the concept of "Biodiversity Conservation in Our Neighborhood" (BCON) proposed by China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) and has been practicing the philosophy consistently. He has established his own ecological farm called "Hongyi Ecological Farm" and has been implementing the "Six Nos" approach in agricultural production: no pesticides, no chemical fertilizers, no herbicides, no plastic film, no hormones, and no genetically modified seeds. He has maintained this commitment for many years. Editor at the International Department of CBCGDF has translated and shared his article as follows. Please note that this article represents the author's personal views and does not reflect the views of CBCGDF. (Note by LW)


Why Has Agricultural Non-point Source Pollution Become the Biggest Source of Pollution in China?

By Jiang Gaoming

Recently, while attending a conference in Hainan, I learned that agricultural non-point source pollution has surpassed industrial point source pollution, becoming the largest source of environmental pollution in many parts of China.

Farmers who have worked on the land all their lives were suddenly informed that agricultural non-point source pollution has far exceeded industrial point source pollution to become the largest source of pollution. In some areas, contributions from agricultural non-point source pollution reach 70%, while industrial pollution accounts for 30%. Previously, industrial pollution accounted for 70%, and agricultural non-point source pollution accounted for 30%, resulting in a new pattern of environmental pollution in the current era known as the "reverse 3:7" phenomenon.

Agriculture has become the biggest source of pollution, which farmers find difficult to comprehend. How did this situation come about? Where does agricultural non-point source pollution originate? Let's analyze and here're the factors according to my observation:

Firstly, long-term use of chemical fertilizers results in a utilization rate of less than 30% by agricultural plants, with over 70% becoming pollutants and contributing to environmental pollution, particularly severe pollution of terrestrial and marine water bodies. The occurrence of algal blooms and red tides in water bodies is the direct evidence of agricultural non-point source pollution.

Secondly, plastic film pollution. To conserve heat, moisture, or control weeds, farmers use a large amount of plastic film. China accounts for 81% of global plastic film usage, from Inner Mongolia in the north to Hainan Island in the south, from Xinjiang in the west to the Shandong Peninsula in the east; plastic film is ubiquitous. Plastic film pollution has three major hazards: dioxins, plasticizers, and microplastics, which are the three major threats to health.

Thirdly, pesticide pollution. Pesticides severely disrupt the ecological balance. They not only kill pests but also eliminate natural enemies of pests, leading to an intensified arms race between pests and pesticides. Over the past half-century, the number of pest species in Chinese farmland has increased from seven or eight to several hundred. Less than 1% of the pesticides sprayed by farmers target the intended pests, while the rest enter the ecological environment and the food chain, resulting in an increasing number of patients in hospitals.

Fourthly, herbicide pollution. Farmers have a strong aversion to weeds. Chemical herbicides save labor but increase the frequency of herbicide use, targeting not only weeds in fields but also those in the surrounding areas. Weeds serve as the last habitat for natural enemies of pests. When their habitats are destroyed, pests lose control and multiply uncontrollably. The ecological approach to pest control is actually quite simple: leaving some weeds intact. In the past, manual weeding achieved this, but unfortunately, after the use of inexpensive herbicides, weeds could no longer be preserved.

Fifthly, antibiotic pollution. Intensive and large-scale animal farming leads to a higher incidence of animal diseases, which in turn necessitates the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics enter the agricultural ecosystem through animal excreta and eventually find their way into the human body through the food chain. The discovery of antibiotics in children's urine samples in various parts of the country is evidence of this.

Sixthly, hormone pollution. Various growth hormones are used to increase yield or accelerate animal growth. Hormones are present in animals, plants, and even traditional Chinese herbs. Hormones such as growth promoters, dwarfing agents, and lean meat enhancers are commonly used.

Seventhly, heavy metal pollution. The discharge of industrial waste, long-term use of chemical fertilizers in farmland, and the excreta of factory-farmed animals result in the entry of heavy

 metals into water bodies and soil, eventually entering the food chain. Heavy metal pollution is the most difficult to control. Without stopping it at the source, accumulated heavy metals will pose significant risks to ecosystems and human health.

Eighthly, food contamination. The aforementioned chemicals not only pollute water, air, and soil but also pose a significant challenge in terms of contaminating the human food chain. Food produced in a polluted environment inevitably enters the food chain, and the residues of pesticides, herbicides, plasticizers, microplastics, and heavy metals are likely to be the direct causes of various major diseases outbreaks.

Ninthly, food turning into food waste without passing through human stomachs. Due to cheap prices and deteriorating taste, people no longer cherish food. According to research estimates, about one-third of the food produced by humans directly becomes waste without passing through human stomachs. Among the difficult-to-handle municipal waste, food accounts for more than half, and almost all of it consists of food waste.

Tenthly, the production of petrochemical agricultural inputs exacerbates point source pollution. Unfortunately, agriculture has surpassed industry to become the largest source of pollution, and the source of non-point source pollution is industrial point sources. The production and excessive use of various chemical agricultural inputs, particularly the influx of industrial pollutants under the guise of agricultural productivity enhancement, have infiltrated the agricultural ecosystem, including fertilizer plants, pesticide factories, and chemical plants.

Where should human agriculture go from here? Should we continue down the path of chemical agriculture or develop ecological agriculture to comprehensively address the aforementioned issues? This requires the awakening of consumers, the mobilization of producers' enthusiasm, the guidance of decision-makers, and the value orientation of operators. However, the time for human contemplation that nature has left us is running out.

Original post in Chinese see:


(Pls note that this article represents the views of the author only. Comments and reviews are very welcome, and readers are encouraged to engage in a dialogue with the author.)

Author: Jiang Gaoming (Founder of Hongyi Ecological Civilization Station; Former Deputy Secretary-General of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation)

Editor: LW
Translator: Wendy
Contact:; +8617319454776


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