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Spatial-temporal assessment of water footprint, water scarcity and crop water productivity in a major crop production region

Xu, Zhenci, Chen, Xiuzhi, Wu, Susie Ruqun, Gong, Mimi, Du, Yueyue, Wang, Jinyan, Li, Yunkai, Liu, Jianguo
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.224 pp. 375-383
agricultural management, crop yield, food security, humans, irrigated farming, irrigation, water footprint, water security, water shortages, China, India, Japan
Irrigated agriculture has had an enormous influence on food security, water security and human well-being. Water footprint (how much water is used), water scarcity (how scarce water is), and crop water productivity (how much productivity irrigation adds) are important indicators for evaluating sustainability in irrigated agriculture. Yet these interrelated indicators have not been studied simultaneously at the county level – the basic administrative unit of agricultural planning and water management in countries such as China, India and Japan. To fill this knowledge gap, we performed a demonstration in China's major crop production region, the North China Plain (NCP)'s 207 counties from 1986 to 2010. The results show that the irrigated agriculture's annual water footprint in the North China Plain increased from 53 billion m3 in 1986 to 78 billion m3 in 2010. All counties faced water scarcity during 1986-2010 even as the average crop water productivity increased from 0.90 kg m−3 to 1.94 kg m−3. There are 173 NCP counties suffering severe water scarcity but still producing significant crop yield with a high water footprint, a red flag of unsustainable irrigated agriculture. This study has implications for revealing potential unsustainable conditions in irrigated agriculture worldwide.