China must balance its grain production in the Northern and Southern regions if it wants to maintain food security and environmental sustainability, according to a study published by researchers from Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University in China and The University of Western Australia.
Currently, the Chinese government is vigorously promoting grain production to ensure national food security in North China, but in doing so is over-exploiting limited water and other natural resources.
The paper, recently published in World Agriculture, analysed the changes in grain production (cereals and soya bean) and productivity in China to assess challenges and opportunities for national food security.
Up until the 1980s, grain production was higher in the south, with its higher rainfall, temperatures and arable land. As the economy boomed and GDP in the South increased, the economy shifted to non-agricultural industries. Grain production per capita continued to increase in North China, eventually becoming higher than in South China in 2005.
North China consists of arid and semi-arid regions with suitable thermal conditions for grain production in spring and summer. However, it has limited water resources. To overcome this, the Chinese government developed irrigation and water conservation facilities to intercept surface water and pump groundwater.
Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique, Director of The UWA Institute of Agriculture who co-authored the paper said the area of irrigated farmland in the north has expanded 59.5 per cent since 1978 putting enormous pressure on water resources.
“Urgent attention is needed to alleviate the pressure on water resources and therefore grain production in North China. Production in South China can be increased to maintain food security and environmental sustainability,” Professor Siddique said.
“The south, with its water and temperature advantages is the inevitable choice for increasing grain production.”
It is difficult to improve agricultural water use efficiency in China in the short term, but water saving measures such as drip and sprinkler irrigation, no-till farming to reduce evaporation and ridge-furrow mulching systems can be implemented.
Professor Siddique suggested the Chinese government needs to have a balanced approach, and strategically allocate grain production targets to all provinces based on their water and environmental resources to guide food production of China.
“Investigation of the land use capability and increasing yield through modern crop breeding technologies, innovative farming systems and irrigation technologies should be employed,” Professor Siddique said.
The paper Cereal and soya bean production and food security in China: Challenges and opportunities was published in World Agriculture and was supported by the Chinese National Key Technology Support Program and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities of China.
Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique (The UWA Institute of Agriculture) (+61 8) 6488 7012 / (+61 4) 11 155 396
Diana Boykett (Communications Officer, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) (+61 8) 6488 3756 / (+61 4) 04 152 262