Monday, May 18, 2009

Pay farmers to halt irrigation to ease water crisis, Chinese adviser urges

Jonathan Watts in the Guardian (UK): China should pay farmers to halt irrigation in the environmentally degraded far west despite long-standing concerns about food security, a senior government adviser has told the Guardian. After more than 50 years of converting desert to farmland, the expert says the water problems in Xinjiang are so acute that the vast region – bigger than two-thirds of the world's nations – cannot develop further unless it pulls people off the fields and into cities.

Ideas for a pilot project aimed at reducing water use intensity in the area have been submitted by the expert, who was dispatched by the prime minister last year to study the problem. The report's findings, as told to the Guardian, suggest the dash to transform desert into farmland over the past 50 years has resulted in a massive waste of water resources and environmental damage.

"In Xinjiang, close to 96% of the water is used for agriculture. In the world, this is the highest share," said the source, who asked to remain anonymous. "This structure has already caused the destruction of the freshwater ecosystem. In some lower reaches of rivers, there is no longer any water. Some wetlands and lakes have degraded."

Last year, officials and farmers complained they were suffering from the most severe drought in 50 years and called for more water to be diverted from neighbouring Kazakhstan, but the adviser found the cause of the problem was over-expansion of farmland and the drilling of too many wells….

Yunnan farmland in China, shot by BrokenSphere, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0Attribution ShareAlike 2.5Attribution ShareAlike 2.0and Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License

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