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Irrigation Efficiency Given Priority

Zhai Haohui, vice-minister of water resources has said irrigation efficiency will be raised by 10 percent from the present 45 percent by 2030 throughout China to ensure food security for its 1.6 billion people then.

His plans were unveiled last week at a press conference held to announce the opening of the 19th Congress of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID) in Beijing on September 10.

Today, China has to feed its 1.3 billion people, or 22 percent of the world's total, with just 9 percent of the world's farmland and with only 6 per cent of the planet's renewable water resources.

China's annual water supply capability has reached more than 580 billion cubic metres thanks to a comprehensive irrigation network nationwide, according to Zhai.

However, "such a miracle is facing ever-growing challenges with China's rapid economic growth and urbanization, and increasing population," he warned.

China's per capita water volume is only 2,200 cubic metres, one quarter of the world's average.

In the north, chronic water shortage has plunged over half of the country's cultivated land into drought while in the south, seasonal floods have threaten one-third of the nation's farmland downstream of major rivers.

The country has to rely heavily on its existing 56 million hectares of well-irrigated farmland about 40 percent of the total to grow four-fifths of its grain and over 90 percent of its cash crops.

Each year, 390 billion cubic meters of water have to be consumed by farming.

Only 40 to 45 percent of water, some 30 percent lower than that of the world's advanced level, can be effectively used for irrigation due to inefficient methods, Li Daixin, chairman of the Chinese National Committee of ICID.

"Water, food security and the environment are still the major challenges facing China and many other countries in the 21st century," he said.

By 2050, the world's population is expected to increase from the present 6 billion to 9 billion, according to Cai Lingen, ICID's vice-president and also a professor with the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research.

To meet the food requirements of the growing population by this date, global food production will have to be doubled by globally improving the use of land and water resources, he predicted.

He was confident that more than 1,200 experts and water officials, including 800 from foreign countries, can find a good solution to such issues while sharing their experiences with each other during the ICID's Beijing congress.

(China Daily September 12, 2005)

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