Exploring the eco-efficiency of cultivated land utilization and its influencing factors in China's Yangtze River Economic Belt, 2001–2018
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Rapid urbanization in China has worsened the sustainable utilization of limited cultivated land resources, which seriously threatens food security and ecological security. To realize maximum benefits and minimize environmental pollution, the eco-efficiency of cultivated land utilization (ECLU) is becoming a vital indicator in weighing the rationality of regional land use. However, conceptualization of the ECLU remains lacking, while assessments of this indicator are still incomplete. This lack of information may inhibit planning guideline for the sustainable development of cultivated land resources. Thus, this study attempts to fill this gap by customizing a new conceptual index system for the ECLU and measuring it using the slack-based measure with undesirable output (SBM-Undesirable) model in the Yangtze River Economic Belt (YREB) during the period 2001-2018. Spatial econometric models were used to further analyze the influencing factors of the ECLU. The average ECLU value in the YREB declined from 2001 to 2004, and then rapidly trended upward in 2005-2018. The lower reaches had the highest efficiency, followed by the middle and upper reaches, with respective values of 0.494, 0.628, and 0.683. The spatial-temporal pattern of the ECLU reveals that the number of areas with low and medium-low efficiency decreased gradually, while the number of areas with medium-high and high efficiency increased continuously. The magnitude and direction of influencing factors indicates that socioeconomic development level, agricultural science and technology investments, carbon emission reducing, and agricultural pollution control could effectively improve the ECLU. These findings have important implications for promoting high-efficient, low-carbon utilization of cultivated land resources and sustainable regional development in China.