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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Maricopa, Arizona » U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center » Water Management and Conservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #364746

Research Project: Advancing Water Management and Conservation in Irrigated Arid Lands

Location: Water Management and Conservation Research

Title: Balancing food production within the planetary water boundary

item HUANG, JING - Leiden University
item RIDOUTT, BRADLEY - Commonwealth Scientific And Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
item SUN, ZHONGXIAO - Leiden University
item LAN, KANG - Southwest University
item Thorp, Kelly
item WANG, XIAOHUL - China Agricultural University
item YIN, XIAOGANG - China Agricultural University
item HUANG, JIANLING - Huazhong Agricultural University
item CHEN, FU - China Agricultural University
item SCHERER, LAURA - Leiden University

Submitted to: Journal of Cleaner Production
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/26/2019
Publication Date: 1/2/2020
Citation: Huang, J., Ridoutt, B.G., Sun, Z., Lan, K., Thorp, K.R., Wang, X., Yin, X., Huang, J., Chen, F., Scherer, L. 2020. Balancing food production within the planetary water boundary. Journal of Cleaner Production. 253.

Interpretive Summary: Over the past few decades, food production in China has spread to areas of the country that are more water scarce. This study implemented a simulation model (AquaCrop) and a geospatial simulation tool (GeoSim) to spatially analyze changes in water scarcity footprints for maize, wheat, and rice crops across China since 1980. The study highlighted regions in China where crop production may be unsustainable due to high water scarcity footprints and showed that reducing production in these areas to sustainable levels could be offset by closing yield gaps in water rich regions. The results may lead to improved water management and planning for crop production in China.

Technical Abstract: Freshwater use is recognized as one of the nine planetary boundaries. However, water scarcity is a local or regional phenomenon, meaning that the global boundary must be spatially downscaled to reflect differences in water availability. In China, as in most countries, irrigation is the major freshwater user, closely linking food security to the freshwater boundary. To provide evidence supporting environmentally sustainable water use in China’s food production, this study explores how a grain production shift affects the national water-scarcity footprint (WSF) and the potential to reach sustainable water use limits while maintaining the current grain production level. We found that the historical breadbasket shift towards water-scarce northern regions has increased the WSF by 40% from 1980 to 2015. To operate within the boundary, national irrigation needs to be reduced by 18% in hotspot regions, with implications of a 21% loss of grain production. However, this loss can be reduced to around 8% by closing yield gaps in water-rich regions. It demonstrates the high potential of integrating crop redistribution and closing yield gaps to achieve grain production goals within freshwater boundaries. This Chinese case study can be representative of the challenges faced by many of the world’s countries, where pressures on land and water resources are high and a sustainable means of increasing food supply must be found.