Equipped with water-saving and dry farming technology, China's vast western area could produce 20 million tons more grain than it does at present, according to an official with the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA).
By using water efficiently, the region could fully unleash its tremendous agricultural potential and reinforce booming farming bases, which grow such things as high-quality cotton, sugar, fruit and flowers, said Chen Mengshan, director of the Agricultural Production Department of the MOA.
Boasting 70 percent of the country's land area and a third of its arable land, the 12 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities of the western region, including Sichuan, Chongqing and Xinjiang, are blessed with plentiful natural resources, such as long hours of sunshine and drastic differences in night and daytime temperatures, essential factors for higher quality farm products.
But the region's agricultural development has long been frustrated by severe water shortages and droughts, as arid land represents 81 percent of western China's total arable land, leaving water-efficient farming almost the only option for sustainable agricultural development there, noted the official.
One of the immediate benefits of promoting water-saving technology and dry farming is that food security in the region would thus be assured, according to Chen.
More than 350 million people - 27 percent of the country's total population - dwell in the western regions, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
"By disseminating dry farming and water-saving irrigation techniques in arid farming areas, we could raise the output of two-thirds of the western regions to the country's average level," said Chen.
Currently, the per hectare yield of farmland in the western regions stands at about 3,346 kilograms, 74.5 percent of the country's average, according to the ministry statistics.
The ministry's plan for the coming five years is to complete 250 water-saving agricultural pilot bases in the region, where water-retention and other facilities will be installed, according to Vice-Minister of Agriculture Liu Jian.
Priority will be given to the introduction of applicable foreign experience and expertise in water-saving agricultural practices, Liu said.
The development of water-saving agriculture and the dissemination of dry farming technology call for massive investments that necessitate financial support from the government and the participation of enterprises, including foreign businesses, both Liu and Chen said.
Over the past five years, the state has poured 300 million yuan (US$36.1 million) into building 240 water-saving agricultural production pilot bases across the western parts of China, according to the ministry sources.
(China Daily 05/04/2001)