Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 465–475 | Cite as

Can China achieve food security through the development of irrigation?

  • Xinchun Cao
  • Mengyang Wu
  • Yalian Zheng
  • Xiangping Guo
  • Dan Chen
  • Weiguang Wang
Original Article


China faces the dual challenge of water scarcity and food security with continued population growth. This paper explores methods to meet that demand without increasing agricultural water usage. The results show that China’s grain yield increased from 1.09 to 5.38 t/ha in 1949–2014 and may reach 6.13 t/ha in 2030. Further, food production increases can be achieved by increasing crop yield and enhancing irrigation efficiency (the ratio of crop irrigation water consumption to water diversion, IE). According to forecast scenarios, future grain yield will reach 5.86 t/ha if the ratio of total irrigated areas increases by 12.3%, while the IE will reach 0.583, lower than the planning goal of 0.600. The increase of water productivity proves that China can ensure its food security by improving IE and expanding irrigation areas with the water that is saved. The basic premise to ensure food security is to ensure that future investments in agricultural water and arable land are not reduced. The future should focus on provinces in the South, which is the major grain-producing area, in developing irrigation. The Northern regions have limited potential to develop irrigation and should therefore maintain the current scale of agricultural production to lay a solid foundation for food security in the future.


Food security Irrigation efficiency Crop yield Water productivity Water resource China 



This work is jointly funded by National Natural Science Foundation of China (51609065), the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (2015B11014), China Postdoctoral Science Foundation funded project (2017M611681), A Project Funded by the Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions (PAPD), and the Science and Technology Project on Water Conservancy in Jiangsu Province (2017057).

Supplementary material

10113_2017_1214_MOESM1_ESM.docx (217 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 216 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xinchun Cao
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Mengyang Wu
    • 2
    • 3
  • Yalian Zheng
    • 2
  • Xiangping Guo
    • 2
    • 3
  • Dan Chen
    • 2
    • 3
  • Weiguang Wang
    • 1
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Hydrology Water Resources and Hydraulic EngineeringHohai UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.College of Water Conservancy and HydropowerHohai UniversityNanjingChina
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Efficient Irrigation-Drainage and Agricultural Soil-Water Environment in Southern China of Ministry of EducationHohai UniversityNanjingChina

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