Support to Investment

Toward greener growth in water-stressed China

Farmers wrap up planting a rice variety.

Farmers in water-stressed northern China have increased their crop yields and strengthened their climate resilience thanks to an innovative World Bank-funded project, designed with the Investment Centre, that combined investments in engineering works and land husbandry, improved farming practices and modern irrigation technology.

By building or upgrading irrigation and drainage systems, the project helped reduce water withdrawal from the Yellow River for irrigated agriculture in Ningxia Province as well as groundwater overdraft in Hebei Province and groundwater withdrawal in Shanxi Province.

The project provided incentives for farmers to reduce water or to pay more for it. It created or strengthened 290 local water user associations responsible for operating and maintaining the irrigation systems and collecting volume-based water tariffs from their members.

Farming communities received financial and technical support to reduce leakage and non-beneficial evaporation of irrigation water.

The project also encouraged farmers to shift towards less water-intensive and higher-value crops, like fruits and vegetables, and use improved agricultural practices, such as conservation agriculture, balanced fertilizer application and new seed varieties.

Northern China – home to half of the nation’s roughly 1.4 billion people and two-thirds of its farmland – has only one-fifth of the country’s water.

With irrigated agriculture producing three-quarters of China’s agricultural output, a more sustainable use of water for farming is essential.

The five-year USD 160 million project – winner of the World Bank’s prestigious 2018 East Asia and Pacific Region Vice Presidential Units’ Team Award – has contributed to greener agricultural growth and water conservation, topics high on the Government’s agenda.

Other regions in China have now adopted several of the project’s innovative water management approaches, namely volume-based water pricing and participatory water planning. And these approaches are shaping World Bank-supported projects in other parts of the world, helping to change the way agricultural water is managed and used.

Photo credit ©Veejay Villafranca/NOOR for FAO
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