An increase in rainwater use efficiency through innovative technologies can have a significant impact on production in the rainfed farming systems of north-west China and south-western Australia, where shortages of water occur in late spring and early summer. ACIAR contracted a team whose major task was to identify investment priorities and develop project design principles for a coherent and effective cluster of projects to increase the productivity of agricultural water in north-west China. The ultimate goal is to improve farmer incomes in dryland farming systems of Gansu and Shaanxi provinces in north-west China by developing and promoting the adoption of practical, low-cost technologies of rainwater harvesting and in-field soil water conservation. In south-western Australia researchers examined the potential to reuse fresh water harvested from surface and subsurface drains and then develop technologies for supplemental irrigation of wheat and canola.
The four-person mission followed an internal ACIAR ‘Water Use in China’ workshop in August 2007, at which key ACIAR Australian co-operators presented progress reports on their current China projects. The mission spent two weeks in China in November/December 2007 and during that time held meetings and discussions with more than 30 agencies, institutions, farmer groups, individual farmers, and various levels of government.
In March/April 2008, the team conducted workshops in Lanzhou and Beijing with stakeholders to discuss an Interim Paper published in late 2007 and then refine its recommendations.
At the end of these two missions to China the team recognised that Gansu Province is facing a major crisis in terms of water supplies for irrigation. China (and Gansu) are already responding to this situation, especially in terms of saving irrigation water by lining distribution canals and commencing water allocation, quota and payment systems. Unfortunately this response has not always been supported with widespread on-the-ground application of existing and proven on-farm water use efficiency (WUE) technologies. However, programs which include government subsidies for technology, such as plastic film for mulching, are being well adopted. There have also been large government-supported programs to collect water in dryland areas for use in greenhouse vegetable production and supplementary crop irrigation.
Pasture management programs in China’s north-west focus on the use of deep rooted perennials such as lucerne, as a WUE method and as a source of animal feed. There is also considerable use of trees to replace cropping and grazing on some land types for degradation control, and programs such as ‘Grain for Green’ are very obvious. However, there is very limited consideration of total watershed water input and output balances which would lead to better allocation of water into its highest value uses.
The team found that ACIAR’s program is highly regarded by those stakeholders who are directly involved, but the program is virtually unknown outside this small circle of people. In addition, the R&D findings are being used by few extension officers. ACIAR’s project results are rarely incorporated into government programs for the relevant county because appropriate stakeholder linkages have not been well developed. The team determined that there are many opportunities for future ACIAR-funded research projects to assist the Government of Gansu to improve on-farm WUE. Some of these should be based on existing and known technologies which are ‘sitting on the shelf’ and simply need efficient and effective extension systems for dissemination to irrigation and dryland farmers.
The main project recommendation was for ACIAR to operate a technically directed program in a geographic location (preferably a small catchment) in Gansu Province which was not currently being substantially impacted on by large-scale national, provincial or bilateral aid or development support. This recommendation should result in larger and more multi-disciplinary R,D&E programs for ACIAR to fund, in conjunction with their counterpart stakeholders in Gansu. A bidding process should be used to plan new R,D&E programs which focus on specific catchments in Gansu Province and comply with design criteria that have evolved as a result of the mission’s findings.