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China: move crops to cut water usage

Longji rice terraces, Guangxi province, China Longji rice terraces, Guangxi province, China Tutti Frutti, Shutterstock
01 Aug
China could reduce its water consumption if it reorganised its crop production and trade, reports a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

An international research team combined a hydrological model with simulations of domestic and international trade and measures of regional water consumption to determine the efficiency of water use in China’s food trade. They found that across China, irrigation accounts for about a quarter of water used to produce crops and for 16 per cent of water used in meat production.

However, in drier provinces such as Xinjiang, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, irrigation use in crop production rose to 85 per cent, 69 per cent and 49 per cent respectively. Crops such as corn, rice and wheat thrive here but are irrigated using water drawn from aquifers. Reducing agricultural production in these provinces and importing food commodities could lead to a significant reduction in water use, the researchers found.

‘Our work highlights opportunities for addressing water scarcity in China by adjusting where water-intensive crops are grown and how they are traded,’ said author Denise Mauzerall of Princeton University in New Jersey. ‘Policies that encourage such adjustments can help conserve water while maintaining China’s food security.’

This story was published in the August 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine

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