Farmers’ risk preferences and pesticide use decisions: evidence from field experiments in China

Yazhen Gong, Kathy Baylis, Robert Kozak, Gary Bull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


China faces health and environmental problems associated with the use of agricultural chemicals, including pesticides. While previous studies have found that risk aversion affects pesticide use in China, they have focused primarily on commercial cotton farmers. In this study, we consider the case of smaller, semisubsistence and subsistence farmers in a poor and landlocked province of China (Yunnan). We use a field experiment to measure risk aversion and collect detailed data on farm production and input use to specifically ask whether risk aversion affects pesticide use, and whether this effect differs for subsistence farmers producing exclusively for home consumption versus semisubsistence farmers who produce both for home and the market. We find that risk aversion significantly increases pesticide use, particularly for subsistence farmers and for market plots by semisubsistence farmers. Further, this effect of risk aversion significantly decreases with farm size for subsistence farmers, but not for semisubsistence farmers, implying that pesticide use may be used to ensure sufficient food supply for home consumption. Finally, we find barriers to the use of pesticides for subsistence farmers, both in terms of financial constraints and economies of scale. This finding implies that risk-mitigation strategies, such as crop insurance, may not target food security concerns of subsistence farmers. Given these different motivations for pesticide use, policymakers may wish to consider effective tools to support rural food security for farmers in the poorer regions of China in order to decrease pesticide use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-421
Number of pages11
JournalAgricultural Economics (United Kingdom)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • China
  • Pesticide use
  • Risk aversion
  • Semisubsistence and subsistence farmers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Economics and Econometrics

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