Government seeks to bolster grain production through water project investment

20:42, January 30, 2011      

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Liu Qingqiang is watching the wheat wither on his parched cropland as water glitters in a reservoir just to the west.

Despite its tantalizing proximity, a lack of irrigation channels means the water will remain out of reach for Liu and other farmers struggling through a drought in north China's wheat-growing regions.

"It's like having food in your hand, but being unable to lift it to your mouth," says Liu, a resident of Xianggou Township in Junan County, Shandong Province, pointing to the Liuda River Reservoir, which holds about 6 million cubic meters of water.

"Without canals, the water in the reservoir is beyond our reach. We can only wait until the spring to dig wells," Liu says. "But that's expensive and the delay will hurt production."

The aging reservoir was designed to irrigate more than 20,000 mu (1,334 hectares) of farmland, but water reaches less than 100 mu -- one 200th of the designed capacity -- due to insufficient channels, says Lu Shousheng, an official with Xianggou Township.

"We hope the central government's latest policy will help us tackle the problem," Lu says.

China's central government Saturday issued a document that makes water conservancy construction a priority task.

The document said the government would increase investment in water conservancy to double last year's amount each year for the next 10 years.

Investment was 200 billion yuan last year and the amount would total 4 trillion yuan in the next 10 years, said Chen Xiwen, director of the office for the Communist Party of China Central Committee's Leading Group on Rural Work.

Experts believe the move will help stabilize grain output, which is vulnerable to natural disasters, although the country has seen seven straight years of bumper harvests for the first time in 50 years.

"The document reveals the central government's determination to tackle the problem with unprecedented efforts," said Dang Guoying, a researcher with the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Water conservancy facilities have been a bottleneck in agricultural development. Grain output has been crucial to stability," Dang said.

Zhang Weiguo, director of the Institute of Economics of the Shandong Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, said the document showed the intention of the central government to improve grain security through investing more in water conservancy.

Before the document, there was no clear definition of the government as the main investment body for water conservancy construction, Zhang said.

Minister of Water Resources Chen Lei said Sunday at a press conference that 10 percent of land transfer fees -- about 60 billion to 80 billion yuan (9.12 billion to 12.16 billion U.S. dollars) a year -- would be earmarked for the cause.

The document is the first ever systematic plan of the central government on water conservancy reform and development since the foundation of the People's Republic of China.

China's agricultural water conservancy projects, mostly built in the 1950s and 1960s, are showing signs of wear and tear.

About 40 percent of the projects in major irrigation regions need repairs, while the figure is 50 percent in small and medium-sized regions, according to the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

Weather forecasts show little precipitation is expected in the next three days in drought-ravaged north China.

North China's wheat-growing regions, including the provinces of Shandong, Henan, Hebei, Anhui, Shanxi and Jiangsu, have received little rain since October.

Source: Xinhua
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