While agriculture places the greatest demand on water resources, increasing agricultural production is worsening a global water shortage. Reducing the cultivation of water-consuming crops may be the most effective way to reduce agricultural water use. However, when also taking food demand into consideration, sustaining the balance between regional water and food securities is a growing challenge. This paper addresses this task for regions where water is unsustainable for food production (Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region for example) by: (i) assessing the different effects of wheat and maize on water use; (ii) analyzing virtual water and virtual land flows associated with food imports and exports between Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and elsewhere in China; (iii) identifying sub-regions where grain is produced using scarce water resources but exported to other regions; and (iv) analyzing the potentiality for mitigating water shortage via Land-Water-Food Nexus. In the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region, the study reveals that 29.76 bn m3 of virtual water (10.81 bn m3 of blue virtual water) are used by wheat and maize production and 8.77 bn m3 of virtual water used in nearly 2 million ha of cropland to overproduce 12 million ton of maize for external food consumption. As an importing-based sub-region with high population density, Beijing & Tianjin imported mostly grain (wheat and maize) from Shandong Province. Then, Hebei Province, as an exporting-based sub-region with severe water shortage, overproduced too much grain for other regions, which aggravated the water crisis. To achieve an integrated and sustainable development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region, Hebei Province should stop undertaking the breadbasket role for Beijing & Tianjin and pay more attention to groundwater depletion. The analysis of the Land-Water-Food Nexus indicates how shifts in cultivated crops can potentially solve the overuse of water resources without adverse effects on food supply. It also provides meaningful information to support policy decisions about regional cropping strategies.
Science of the Total Environment – Elsevier
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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