A new report details an absurdity that could have enormous implications for China’s food and energy security in the coming years: The country is growing water-intensive crops in its drier provinces, and then shipping that food to wetter regions for consumption. The BBC reports:
“Because arable land is available mainly in the water-scarce north, irrigation has become widespread, covering 45% of the country’s agricultural land and accounting for 65% of national water withdrawal,” [wrote an international team of researchers.]They concluded: “China’s domestic food trade is efficient in terms of rainwater but inefficient regarding irrigation, meaning that dry, irrigation-intensive provinces tend to export to wetter, less irrigation-intensive ones.
Water scarcity isn’t a new headache for Beijing, but it’s fast becoming more like a migraine as Party leadership tries to sustain the country’s rapid growth and development. China has not shied away from exerting its will in international water disputes, leading some to fear that water wars will break out in the future. And China doesn’t need water only for consumption and agriculture; the country also needs it in order to frack its massive shale gas reserves, estimated to be the largest in the world.