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Prospects for agricultural water management

The further development of irrigation in China faces a number of problems (Yuanhua Li, 2006):

  • Water scarcity: The country level data hide massive regional differences in water scarcity behind the average figures. In 2030, the deficit at the national level would be around 13 km3, but the water shortage on the North China Plain would be as high as 25-46 km3.
  • Shortage of funds for the rehabilitation and modernization of irrigation systems: Most of the irrigation systems were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, and low design standards, aged structures and imperfect field works lead to low irrigation water-use efficiency, poor irrigation service, low irrigation reliability.
  • Farm size: Farm size is small, and farmer’s income is quite low.
  • Institutional frictions: These remain among various administrative levels concerning planning, financing, constructing, and maintaining irrigation facilities.

The strategies for coping with water scarcity in China are (Yuanhua Li, 2006):

Strategy 1: Research and development

  • Research and implementation of water-saving irrigation (WSI). WSI refers to any measure leading to reducing irrigation water or increasing irrigation water productivity without distinct reduction in crop yields, as:
  1. reducing conveyance losses;
  2. capturing return flow;
  3. alternative wet and dry irrigation (AWDI) for paddy;
  4. non-full irrigation;
  5. improving irrigation water management; and
  6. increasing application efficiency, etc.

Strategy 2: Modernization of irrigation systems

  • The large and medium-size schemes claim top priority for state investment, the improvement of which is extremely important both for water saving and food security.
  • The ‘melons-on-the vine’ irrigation system in south China and ‘well-canal’ system in north China have been recommended to improve the reliability of irrigation water supply and irrigation water efficiency.

Strategy 3: Institutional development

  • Improve irrigation water management to increase irrigation efficiency, water productivity and income of farmers.
  • Maximize the effects of irrigation systems and find incentives for farmers to protect the irrigation facilities and improve irrigation water management on-farm level.
  • High-level policy support to provide incentives for research and dissemination of new technologies.
  • Funding policy – priority is given to those with wider adoption of WSI practices.

Strategy 4: Water transfer

  • China needs more water savings from the irrigation sector because the total water supply is limited, hence, there is an urgent need to increase water and land productivity. The following indicators are included in the Report of the Eleventh Five-year Plan for national economic and social development by Premier Wen Jiabao on 5 March 2006 (Yuanhua Li, 2006):
  1. total grain production must be increased to more than 500 million tonnes;
  2. irrigation efficiency must be increased to 50 percent from around 45 percent; and
  3. water productivity for industry must be increased by 30 percent.

Outside investment and technology are very important in order for China to cope with its environmental challenges (Burke, 2000).

The Water Resources Minister said in February 2009 that China will tighten water resources management and consider measures to reduce waste. This is to cope with worsening water shortages and that this water shortage has impelled China to consider overall economic and social development and the economical use of water resources to ensure sustainable economic and social development. China is planning to reduce water consumption per unit of GDP to 125 m3 by 2020, a reduction of 60 percent from current use. At the end of 2008, water consumption averaged 229 m3 per 10 000 Yuan worth of products, according to statistics provided by the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR). That figure was down 10 percent compared with the previous year. The Minister also expected to increase 79.5 km3 of water resources by 2020 and secure water supplies for both urban and rural inhabitants. Finally, the Minister proposed reinforcement of laws and regulations on water allocation, consumption and preservation as a fundamental way to achieve this goal (Yao, 2009).


The expressions ‘He’” and ‘Jiang’ that are often added to the names of rivers, mean ‘river’ and ‘large river’. Therefore, in this English version of the country profile, these words have been removed from the name of the river and replaced by the word ‘River’. As an example, Qingjiang has been changed to Qing river and Huaihe has been changed to Huai river.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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