What Is the Potential for Agricultural Water-saving?


The Ministry of Water Resources recently shows the achievements of agricultural water-saving. In the recent 30 years, China’s average annual water consumption of agricultural irrigation remains at about 340 billion cubic meters, accounting for about 56% of the total water consumption of the whole society. The irrigated area, which accounts for about 50% of China’s arable land, produces 75% of total grain and more than 90% of cash crops. Chen Mingzhong, the director of the Rural Water Conservancy and Hydropower Department of the Ministry of Water Resources, said that as the irrigation area expands, the irrigation guarantee rate increases and the total grain output steadily rise. China’s total amount of agricultural water consumption remains stable, which agricultural water-saving irrigation plays an important role.

The key to arable land is water and water-saving irrigation is closely related to food security. With the increasing area of irrigation, what is the potential for agricultural water-saving? What difficulties will we face? How to solve the problem of shortage of funds?

Bumper crops lie in abundant water; the wide application of drip irrigation gains remarkable achievements

Now, it is a crucial period for grape growth. In the vineyard base of Huqiu Village, Ji 'an City, Jiangxi Province, the drip irrigation water saving technology is applied for 300 acres of grapes. Seeing the grapes growing well, Xiao Qinggen, a principal in the base, is happy from the bottom of his heart. “After using this technology, we have greatly improved the grapes” quality and taste. That makes us increase 500 yuan of income per acre.”

The economic benefits brought about by water-saving irrigation are more evident at Yinma Farm in Changma Irrigation District, Yumen City, Gansu Province. “In the past, field channels shifted, leaked, seeped, and leaked seriously. In recent years, the farm has successively built 12 high-efficiency drip irrigation projects, completing drip irrigation construction of a total area of 73,500 mu, so that the area of water-savings is up to more than 40% and the economic benefit per mu increases over 30%.” Zhao Fuqiang, the deputy director of Yinma Farm said that the water consumption for planting onion is very large. The water consumption per mu decreases from 800 to 300 cubic meters, by changing flooding irrigation to drip irrigation, alleviating the farm’s shortage of agricultural water.

“Our special natural conditions and water resources endowment determine the dependence of agriculture on irrigation. So it is the best choice for economic and social development to work to build water conservancy projects, improve the irrigation and drainage system and promote water saving in agriculture, as well as the necessity to ensure national food security.” said Chen Zhongming.

The figures show that our water saving in agriculture has produced a marked effect. By the end of 2020, China's water-saving irrigation area has reached 567 million acres, in which there are 350 million acres of the high-efficiency water-saving area such as sprinkler irrigation, micro-irrigation and pipeline irrigation. And the effective utilization coefficient of farmland irrigation water has reached 0.565, exceeding the target set in the outline of the 13th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development.

Continuous progress is made in building supporting facilities and upgrading water-saving facilities in large and medium-sized irrigated areas. Many ancient irrigation projects, such as Dujiangyan, Jinghui Canal, Hetao Irrigation Area and Qingtongxia, have been revitalized. A large number of new irrigation areas, such as Pishihang, Jingdian, Changma and the Dotong River to Qinwangchuan region, are built in succession. China's effective irrigation area has increased from 240 million acres in 1949 to 1.037 billion acres at present, making China the largest irrigation country in the world.

“Medium-sized irrigation districts are the main area for food production such as grain, cotton and oil, and for water-saving as well.” Mingzhong introduced that in recent years, district renovation and construction efforts have been intensified, and the destroyed and "stuck-necked" projects in irrigation districts have been effectively transformed. The supporting rate of projects and the power generation rate of facilities and facilities have increased significantly, and water-saving construction has been successfully promoted from demonstration and promotion to regional large-scale engineering.

Land selection is based on water, and the water-saving potential is to be deep explored.

Agricultural irrigation is the main water user, and the water saving potential is also the greatest.

In the face of the start of a new journey of building a modern socialist country, there still remains some problems, for example how to serve rural revitalization and agricultural and rural modernization, farmland water conservancy still faces many shortcomings and problems.

In terms of large and medium-sized irrigation areas, the problems are found in the following aspects: the main and branch canals and main branch drainage ditches in large-scale irrigation areas are torn and in disrepair, and the installation rate of water measuring facilities for bucket mouths is low; the thought that paying more attention on reconstruction than management still exists and the management system and mechanism with low level of informatization need to be improved; there is a large gap in maintenance and maintenance funds; The implemented water price for agricultural irrigation has remained low for a long time, which accounts for about half of the operating cost water price, and the actual collection rate of agricultural water fees is less than 70%.

Chen Mingzhong said that in the next step, the water conservancy department would first pay close attention to the problems existing in the development and reform of irrigation districts, and promote the modernization and refined management of large and medium-sized irrigation districts. The water-saving potential of the irrigation area of the Yellow River Basin is mainly in the upper reaches, that is, the northwest region, and the water delivery link has the important potential.Chen Mingzhong said that it is necessary to coordinate the various elements of landscape, forest, field, lake, grass, sand, and implement ecological concepts, technologies, materials, and crafts into the entire process of modernization of the irrigation area to achieve high-quality development of the irrigation area. Focusing on the main grain-producing areas and the irrigation areas of the Yellow River Basin, we should carry out the risk elimination and reinforcement of key irrigation and drainage engineering facilities that affect the efficiency of the irrigation area and the serious risks in order to make supporting facilities meet the standards.

Second, we must strictly control the use of agricultural water. “The water conservancy department regards water resources as the most rigid constraint, insists on determining the land and production by water, implementing the source control of the water resource license, and promoting the total amount of agricultural water use control and quota management.” Chen Mingzhong said that all provinces in the basin should revise and improve local water quotas as soon as possible, and establish a water quota system covering major crops. Under the premise of ensuring the sown area, output and reasonable water demand of food crops, the agricultural planting structure should be adjusted according to local conditions, and the planting area of high water-consuming crops should be appropriately reduced.

In addition, it is necessary to accelerate the construction of smart irrigation districts.

The Ministry of Water Resources plans to focus on the modernized irrigation districts during the 14th Five-Year Plan period, and guides qualified irrigation districts to build a digital irrigation district system that includes functions such as weather forecasting, crop demand, drought monitoring, and water source dispatching, so as to gradually realize the digitization, intelligence of irrigation area management and water scheduling.

Make efforts to solve funding problems

Large-scale water-saving projects have huge capital needs. In addition to increasing financial investment, it is important to further play the role of the market and mobilize the enthusiasm of social capital.

"We need to ask for money from the market for improving the rural revitalization investment and financing mechanism; require technology from the market to rely on technological innovations brought by market forces; obtain efficiency from the market and make professional people do professional work so as to improve operation and maintenance efficiency and service levels, and " said Wang Haoyu, chairman of Dayu Water Saving Group Co., Ltd.

Relevant explorations such as the transformation of large and medium-sized irrigation districts and the development of high-efficiency water-saving irrigation have also achieved certain results. With national financial support, Wuqing District of Tianjin introduced Dayu Water Conservation Group. Through the implementation of rural domestic sewage treatment projects, government and public private partnership (PPP) projects have achieved global and systematic governance, and the coverage rate of 301 villages has reached 100. %.  At the same time, it solved the difficult problem of capital and technology management to make it affordable and sustainable, and finally realized the utilization of sewage as a resource. PPP projects have become an important source of funds for agricultural water conservation. By the end of May this year, there were 1983 water resources projects in the reservoir with an investment of 1.1 trillion yuan; 1385 commercial closed projects with an investment of 766.5 billion yuan; and 841 construction projects with an investment of 453.6 billion yuan.

"The PPP model is a new engine for agricultural water saving and rural revitalization." Jiao Xiaoping, director of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Private Partnership Center, said that the decisive role of the market in resource allocation must be brought into full play to improve water resource utilization efficiency. At the same time, we should encourage the mobilization of social capital to invest in agriculture and rural areas, give full play to social capital's specialization and innovation and creativity, and insist on co-construction, co-governance and sharing in order to effectively solve the problem of "where does the money come from". 

Recently, the Ministry of Water Resources and the National Development and Reform Commission formally issued the "14th Five-Year Plan for Major Agricultural Water-saving Water Supply Project Implementation Plan." After the implementation of the plan, it is estimated that 15 million mu of effective irrigation area can be added to the newly built large-scale irrigation area, and 9.8 million mu of irrigation area will be improved; 124 irrigation areas that implement continued construction and modernization will be able to restore 7 million mu of irrigation area and improve irrigation area by about 7 million mu. 81 million mu, the annual increase in grain production capacity is 5.7 billion kilograms, and the total grain output will reach about 80 billion kilograms.

Chen Mingzhong said that the water conservancy sector would make great efforts on the basis of increasing government investment, further innovate the investment and financing system and mechanisms, make good use of local government special bonds, encourage and attract social capital to participate in project construction and operation, and raise and implement project construction funds through multiple channels.(Reporter,Ji Leilei) 

Source: Economic Daily