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Spatiotemporal variation in water footprint of grain production in China

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Water shortage has become a significant constraint to grain production in China. A more holistic approach is needed to understand the links between grain production and water consumption. Water footprint provides a framework to assess water utilization in agriculture production. This paper analyzes the spatiotemporal variation in water footprint of grain production (WFGP) in China from 1951 to 2010. The results show that, jointly motivated by the improvement of agricultural production and water use efficiency, WFGP in all areas showed a decreasing trend. National average WFGP has decreased from 3.38 to 1.31 m3·kg-1. Due to regional differences in agricultural production and water use efficiency, spatial distribution of WFGP varies significantly and its pattern has changed through time. Moreover, WFGP may show significant differences within areas of similar climatic conditions and agricultural practices, indicating that there is a strong need to improve the management of water use technology. Statistical analysis revealed that regional differences in grain yield are the main cause for variations in spatiotemporal WFGP. However, the scope for further increases in grain yield is limited, and thus, the future goal of reducing WFGP is to decrease the water use per unit area.

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Virtual versus real water transfers within China.

North China faces severe water scarcity--more than 40% of the annual renewable water resources are abstracted for human use. Nevertheless, nearly 10% of the water used in agriculture is employed in producing food exported to south China. To compensate for this 'virtual water flow' and to reduce water scarcity in the north, the huge south-north Water Transfer Project is currently being implemented. This paradox--the transfer of huge volumes of water from the water-rich south to the water-poor north versus transfer of substantial volumes of food from the food-sufficient north to the food-deficit south--is receiving increased attention, but the research in this field has not yet reached further than rough estimation and qualitative description. The aim of this paper is to review and quantify the volumes of virtual water flows between the regions in China and to put them in the context of water availability per region. The analysis shows that north China annually exports about 52 billion m3 of water in virtual form to south China, which is more than the maximum proposed water transfer volume along the three routes of the Water Transfer Project from south to north.

Author and article information

1. Institute of Water Saving Agriculture in Arid Regions of China, Northwest A & F University, Yangling 712100, China
2. Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Water Resources, Yangling 712100 , China
3. National Engineering Research Center for Water Saving Irrigation at Yangling, Yangling 712100, China
4. College of Water Resources and Architectural Engineering, Northwest A & F University, Yangling 712100, China
Author notes
Front. Agr. Sci. Eng.
Frontiers of Agricultural Science and Engineering
Higher Education Press (4 Huixin Dongjie, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100029, China)
: 2
: 2
: 186-193

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.



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