The Right Crop Mix –

Water resources & food production from crop staples to meat

Food Security

Much of China’s agricultural production is in water stressed regions, from corn and wheat to cattle. However, growing different agricultural products use up different amounts of water and shifting from one product to another can save a lot of water.  Finding the right crop mix therefore matters and China is already optimising its crop mix to maximise output per drop based on provincial ecological carry capacities. Given China is the #1 global crop producer, any shift in production pattern or increased imports can impact global food trade.
Thirsty agricultural production in water stressed regions
State of water resources

Crop production (2016)
Meat production (2016)

Key Meats & Crops: World Average Virtual Water Content

Some crops need more water than others
Growing rice, for instance, is very water intensive, requiring more than double the amount of water needed to grow corn. Pollution & Crops
Changing from one crop to another can have a large impact on water resources at the provincial scale. Take Jiangsu, one of China’s Top 4 farmers & a Dry 11 province. Shifting just 12% of rice production to corn there could save 3.2bn m3 of water. This is equivalent to the amount of water tranferred to Beijing via the middle route of the south-to-north water diversion project since 2014.
Finding the right crop mix therefore matters for water & ensures more crop per drop. China Irrigation
China is optimising crop mix
In October 2016, China released the 13th Five Year Plan (13FYP) for Modernisation of National Agriculture. The 13FYP specifically designated crop mix changes for 9 regions split into 3 ecological zones (see more in figure below):
  • Optimised development zones – 4 regions with relatively more abundant water & soil resources.
  • Moderate development zones – 3 regions facing problems with agricultural resources; need accelerated shifts in crop mix; resource intensive agricultural production to be limited.
  • Protected development zones – 2 ecologically vulnerable regions. Ecological red lines to be strictly enforced.

China’s crop mix changes matter for global trade. China is the biggest crop producer in the world while it is also the #1 producer of pork & mutton. Any shifts in production patterns & increased China imports can impact global food trade.    Agriculture Trade Disruptions
China is also implementing other strategies to balance food security & its limited water resources, from setting a minimum amount of arable land to changing diets & reducing food waste. China Food Security Food & Energy Security
Sources: WRI – Nature 557 pp. 651-659 (2018); Xinhua “Diversion project delivers 5 bln cubic meters of water to Beijing”, 8 May 2018; China Statistical Yearbook 2017; FAO 2016; MOA “13th FYP for Modernisation of National Agriculture” 2016; Water Footprint Network