Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 464–472 | Cite as

Decreasing farm number benefits the mitigation of agricultural non-point source pollution in China

  • Liangcong Fan
  • Yuemei Yuan
  • Zechun Ying
  • Shu Kee Lam
  • Lu Liu
  • Xinchao Zhang
  • Hongbin Liu
  • Baojing Gu
Research Article


Agricultural non-point source pollution causes global warming and the deterioration of air and water quality. It is difficult to identify and monitor the emission sources of agricultural pollution due to the large number of farms in China. Many studies focus on the technological aspect of achieving agricultural sustainability, but its socioeconomic aspect is poorly understood. Here, we report how group size (number of farms in a certain region) affects agricultural pollution governance through conducting a social science experiment. We found that when communication was allowed among group members, a small group size facilitated cooperation. Although deviations from the cooperation equilibrium occurred with time in all groups, the smaller the group size, the slower the cooperation equilibrium became frangible. These findings suggest that reducing number of farms and extending the length of farm property rights can benefit the mitigation of agricultural non-point pollution in China. Social science experiments can be a useful tool to understand the socioeconomic aspect of agricultural sustainability.


Common-pool resource Human behavior Communication effect Group size effect Last round effect Pollution governance 


Funding information

This study was supported by the National Key Research and Development Project of China (2018YFC0213304), the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award by the Australian Research Council (DE170100423), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41773068, 41822701), the Collaborative Innovation Center of Judicial Civilization of China, the Zhijiang Youth Grant of Zhejiang Province (G228), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (SSEYI201303 and 203102*172220171). The work contributes to the UK-China Virtual Joint Centre on Nitrogen “N-Circle” funded by the Newton Fund via UK BBSRC/NERC (BB/N013484/1), and Australia-China Joint Research Centre–Healthy soils for sustainable food production and environmental quality, jointly funded by Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.

Supplementary material

11356_2018_3622_MOESM1_ESM.docx (30 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 29 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Guanghua Law SchoolZhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina
  2. 2.Collaborative Innovation Center of Judicial CivilizationHangzhouChina
  3. 3.School of EconomicsZhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina
  4. 4.School of Agriculture and FoodThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  5. 5.Key Laboratory of Non-point Source Pollution Control, Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional PlanningChinese Academy of Agricultural SciencesBeijingChina
  6. 6.Department of Land ManagementZhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina

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