China is a water-stressed country: per capita water resources are about a quarter of the global average, or 2,100 cubic meters. This scarcity is more severe when the spatial distribution of water sources, the total population and arable land, are taken into account, and the increasing impact of climate change compounds the problem.
Irrigated agriculture, as an essential source of rural employment and livelihoods for over half of the population, uses over 60% of the nation's total water resources; more than any other activity. To ensure sustainable use of the limited water resources, making more efficient use of water in agriculture is critical for China.
Between 2012 and 2016, the World Bank worked with China to implement the Water Conservation Project II in Hebei, Shanxi and Ningxia, the three most water-scarce provinces in the Northern region.
Financed with a World Bank loan of $80 million, the project aimed to improve agriculture water management and increase agriculture water productivity. “Through this project, we seek to reduce evapo-transpiration (ET), and increase water productivity of crops, rather than focusing only on technical measures,” said Sing Cho, Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist and project leader. “We are trying to achieve ‘real water savings’ or reduce ET, by improving on-farm water works to reducing water waste, and also by taking integrated measures such as tailoring cropping patterns for higher water productivity and changing farmers’ behavior to reduce water consumption.”
Hebei province is a major grain producer in China but faces severe water shortage. Per capita water resources stand at only 307 cubic meters, about 1/7 of national average and 1/30 of the global average.
With rapid economic growth, Hebei has seen higher demand for water resources which threatens the sustainable use of their limited water resources. Groundwater in particular is currently overdrawn in some areas, and the overdraft has resulted in the water table falling by 1-2 meters a year. Irrigated agriculture is a major contributor to this as it accounts for 75% of total water usage.
The project in Hebei covers 10 counties with 326 villages and a total population of 322,000, and includes improving irrigation systems on 26,456 hectares (65,374 acres) of farmland, lining and dredging of 262 kilometers of irrigation canals, and 3283.27 kilometers of pipelines.