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China’s Agricultural Renaissance: Smart Irrigation and Sustainable Farming

ChinaChina's Agricultural Renaissance: Smart Irrigation and Sustainable Farming

In the tranquil village of Yongfeng, nestled in the picturesque landscape of Meishan City in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, a remarkable transformation is taking place. This transformation revolves around the cultivation of rice, a staple in Chinese cuisine and a source of sustenance for countless households across the nation. However, what sets Yongfeng apart is not merely the rice itself, but the meticulous process it undergoes before gracing the market.

Over the course of nearly a month, the rice produced in Yongfeng undergoes a rigorous drying and processing regimen. This dedication to quality has yielded bountiful results this year, as the village celebrates a bumper harvest of rice. Deng Kai, the head of a collectively-owned company in Yongfeng Village, is brimming with pride as he attests to the superb quality of this year’s rice crop. Tourists visiting the village during this period have taken note, often choosing to purchase some of this exquisite rice to take home with them.

Astonishingly, Yongfeng Village is on the brink of achieving a new high in rice yield per hectare, with estimates soaring above 12.9 tonnes for this year. The prosperity from rice production has enabled villagers to explore additional avenues for income generation. Among these, the cultivation of rhizoma alismatis, a traditional Chinese herbal medicine, has gained prominence. However, this cultivation endeavor demands a substantial amount of water, a precious resource that could be elusive in many regions.

Yongfeng Village, however, enjoys the advantage of proximity to the Dujiangyan irrigation system, a marvel of ancient engineering situated on the Chengdu Plain of the Minjiang River. This extraordinary system is not just a source of water; it is a lifeline for agricultural endeavors in the region. Covering an extensive irrigation area of 755,000 hectares, the Dujiangyan Irrigation System extends its services to seven cities in Sichuan Province.

In recent years, the venerable 2,000-year-old irrigation system has embraced smart technologies, enhancing its capacity to monitor nearly 1,000 points throughout its vast irrigation expanse. These technological advancements have enabled the system to coordinate its services seamlessly, making it a model of efficiency and sustainability.

Irrigation systems like the Dujiangyan play an indispensable role in fortifying agricultural production across China. In fact, the cumulative irrigation area in the country exceeds a staggering 70 million hectares, representing 55 percent of its arable land. This monumental effort accounts for 77 percent of the nation’s grain production and over 90 percent of cash crop yields, according to the most recent statistics from the Ministry of Water Resources.

An irrigation area can be considered a comprehensive engineering system encompassing water transport, distribution, irrigation, and drainage. In China, there are a total of 7,326 large and medium-sized irrigation areas, each serving as a vital pillar of agricultural sustainability. According to the Ministry of Water Resources, a large irrigation area can supply water to over 20,000 hectares of land, while a medium-sized one can efficiently serve an area ranging from 667 to 20,000 hectares.

One such example of China’s enduring commitment to irrigation is the Hetao Irrigation Area, situated in a region with limited rainfall and a predominantly dry climate. For over 2,200 years, this remarkable irrigation area has harnessed the waters of the Yellow River to nourish its agricultural endeavors. It annually collects a staggering 4.6 billion cubic meters of water from the Yellow River, constituting a significant one-eighth of the total water diversion in the entire Yellow River basin.

Located in Bayannur, within north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the Hetao Irrigation Area is a testament to agricultural prowess. Crops such as wheat, corn, sunflower seeds, and melons thrive in anticipation of a bountiful harvest. The irrigation area serves an expansive 730,000 hectares, with an annual grain output reaching approximately three million tonnes.

Recent years have witnessed a laudable shift toward sustainable practices within the Hetao Irrigation Area. The promotion of drip irrigation, in particular, has emerged as a game-changer, substantially conserving precious water resources. Xinjian Village, nestled within Bayannur, has enthusiastically embraced this innovation, with the village’s Party secretary, Wang Lianzhu, extolling its convenience. With the simple act of activating the drip irrigation system, the village can efficiently irrigate a sprawling 53 hectares of surrounding land.

Furthermore, Bayannur has established irrigation water cooperatives, aimed at optimizing the efficient utilization of water resources. These cooperatives encompass every dike and irrigation channel throughout the region, ensuring that no drop of water goes to waste. Real-time data collection and updates at each water gate and truck channel have become the norm, enabling the monitoring of the entire irrigation area’s water situation with remarkable precision.

“The Hetao Irrigation Area has modernized its information collecting technologies,” proclaims Huang Yinqiang, director of a branch water supply station within the irrigation area. With the aid of a simple smartphone app, the area’s residents can now closely monitor changes in water levels and flow, a testament to the incredible strides made in harnessing technology for sustainable agriculture.

The story of Yongfeng Village and the Dujiangyan irrigation system, alongside the remarkable achievements of the Hetao Irrigation Area, provide compelling narratives of China’s dedication to enhancing agricultural productivity while embracing sustainable practices. Through centuries of innovation and adaptation, these regions exemplify the power of water management in shaping the nation’s agricultural landscape, ensuring food security, and fostering economic prosperity. In a world where water is an increasingly precious resource, China’s commitment to efficient irrigation systems is a shining example of responsible stewardship of the environment and agriculture’s crucial role in shaping the nation’s future.

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