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China's regional water scarcity and implications for grain supply and trade


  • Hong Yang
  • Alexander Zehnder


In this paper we highlight the water scarcity and resource depletion in the North China Plain, the 'breadbasket' of China. A projection of water demand in the region indicates a continuous aggravation in water deficit in the coming years. Analyses of countermeasures on the supply and demand side suggest that the conventional wisdom of 'opening up new sources and economising on the use of resources' may not be an optimal way to deal with water scarcity in the region. Importing water in the form of grain should be taken as an additional measure. This 'virtual water import' option needs to be incorporated into the current regional and national agricultural development strategy in which crop structural adjustment is at the core.

Suggested Citation

  • Hong Yang & Alexander Zehnder, 2001. "China's regional water scarcity and implications for grain supply and trade," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 33(1), pages 79-95, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:33:y:2001:i:1:p:79-95

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:eee:agiwat:v:193:y:2017:i:c:p:1-12 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Sun, Hong-Yong & Liu, Chang-Ming & Zhang, Xi-Ying & Shen, Yan-Jun & Zhang, Yong-Qiang, 2006. "Effects of irrigation on water balance, yield and WUE of winter wheat in the North China Plain," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 85(1-2), pages 211-218, September.
    3. Yang, Hong & Zhang, Xiaohe & Zehnder, Alexander J. B., 2003. "Water scarcity, pricing mechanism and institutional reform in northern China irrigated agriculture," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 61(2), pages 143-161, June.
    4. Lohmar, Bryan & Hansen, James M., 2007. "Interactions between Resource Scarcity and Trade Policy: The Potential Effects of Water Scarcity on China’s Agricultural Economy under the Current TRQ Regime," China's Agricultural Trade: Issues and Prospects Symposium, July 2007, Beijing, China 55031, International Agricultural Trade Research Consortium.
    5. Wichelns, Dennis, 2004. "The policy relevance of virtual water can be enhanced by considering comparative advantages," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 66(1), pages 49-63, April.
    6. Xu, Yueqing & Mo, Xingguo & Cai, Yunlong & Li, Xiubin, 2005. "Analysis on groundwater table drawdown by land use and the quest for sustainable water use in the Hebei Plain in China," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 38-53, July.
    7. Yang, Hong & Zehnder, Alexander J. B., 2002. "Water Scarcity and Food Import: A Case Study for Southern Mediterranean Countries," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 30(8), pages 1413-1430, August.
    8. Dalin, Carole & Qiu, Huanguang & Hanasaki, Naota & Mauzerall, Denise L. & Rodriguez-Iturbe, Ignacio, 2014. "Balancing water resources conservation and food security in China," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 62725, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    9. Yang, Hong & Zhou, Yuan & Liu, Junguo, 2009. "Land and water requirements of biofuel and implications for food supply and the environment in China," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(5), pages 1876-1885, May.
    10. Zhang, Xiying & Chen, Suying & Sun, Hongyong & Wang, Yanmei & Shao, Liwei, 2010. "Water use efficiency and associated traits in winter wheat cultivars in the North China Plain," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 97(8), pages 1117-1125, August.

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