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Lingering drought highlights water-saving agriculture
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Conservation becomes bottleneck

Water from white hoses sprayed across the green wheat field in Qianliu Village, Dezhou City, Shandong, where per capita water resources are only 10 percent of the national level and more than 4 million mu of wheat are lost to drought every year.

"It took me ten hours to water the field from the well, but now I only spend five or six hours," said villager Zhang Shulin. Spraying the field also saves 40 percent of the water he needs, by reducing permeability and evaporation.

In Wangjinghe Village, Lingcheng Town in Dezhou, farmers use drip irrigation to save the village 100,000 cubic meters of water per year.

On average, widely used low-water irrigation facilities in Dezhou cut the city's agricultural water use 30 percent and increase crop yields 20 percent.

Although water-saving measures are used in northern China, many mature technologies aren't popular because of the high cost and low awareness of saving water, said Yu Fuliang, head of the Research Center for Water Resources, the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research.

According to the Ministry of Water Resources, only 47 percent of China's nearly 1.83 billion mu farmland can be irrigated. The rest must rely on precipitation.

Although water supplies are tight, the utilization ratio of irrigation water in China is 45 percent on average, far below the world average of 70 percent, said Xu Xiaoqing, deputy chief of the State Council's Department of Agriculture.

"The farmland affected by drought in our country is about 300 million to 400 million mu every year. Only with practical water-saving irrigation methods can we break the bottleneck of agriculture development," said Xu.

Change takes time

The National Framework for Medium- to Long-Term Food Security, issued in November, stressed the development of water-saving agriculture. It also proposed raising the utilization ratio of irrigation water to 50 percent by 2010 and 55 percent by 2020.

Subsequently, in the first document of the year issued jointly by the State Council and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China Sunday, authorities were urged to increase investment in water-saving irrigation and expand high-efficiency irrigation skills.

Chen Xiwen, director of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Rural Work, said: "The central government emphasized water-saving agriculture. We have been making and issuing relevant policies and measures."

But Chen said developing a whole new agriculture system is a long-term project that requires both abundant investment and cooperation by the government, farmers and consumers.

(Xinhua News Agency February 6, 2009)

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