China must step down agricultural production if it is to avoid even more serious water shortages in the future, according to a leading groundwater expert. But the proposed alternative of increased imports runs contrary to the government’s goal of ensuring a self-sufficient food supply, while the effect of Chinese demand on global food prices has already been linked to political instability elsewhere. From Jonathan Watts in The Guardian:
Zheng Chunmiao, director of the Water Research Centre at Peking University, said the world’s most populous country will have to focus more on demand-side restraint because it is becoming more expensive and difficult to tap finite supplies below the surface.
“The government must adopt a new policy to reduce water consumption,” Zheng told the Guardian. “The main thing is to reduce demand. We have relied too much on engineering projects, but the government realises this is not a long-term solution.”
Zheng’s comments are based on his studies of the aquifers under the North China plain, one of the country’s main wheat growing regions. He said the water table is falling at the rate of about a metre a year mainly due to agriculture, which accounts for 60% of demand.
“The water situation in the North China plain does not allow much longer for irrigation,” Zheng said. “We need to reduce food production even though it is politically difficult. It would be much more economical to import.”
See also: China’s Water Challenges: Q&A with Environmental Historian Kenneth Pomeranz, via CDT.