Research Topic

Managing Irrigation Water for Agricultural Growth and Food Security in China and India

About this Research Topic

The value of agricultural outputs in China and India, the two most populous countries, has been growing remarkably over the past five decades to meet the growing demand for food, changing consumption patterns, and economic needs of an ever-increasing population.

The growing demand for food and agricultural commodities has direct implications for water usage. In China, a substantial part of available water resources is invested into the poultry sector, whilst in India it is the dairy sector which accounts for the greatest usage of water. Despite the drastic increase in water demand for both domestic and environmental purposes, e.g. watering of parks and gardens – practices which significantly reduce availability of water for agricultural use – China has been able to manage its irrigation demand through improvements of crop water productivity. In India, on the other hand, the increasing water demand for irrigation purposes is met, in water-scarce regions, through over-appropriation of surface water and aquifer mining. However, as scope for augmenting supplies is severely limited in both countries, it is imperative that successful water management for increased food production and sustained agricultural growth is achieved through a smarter and more productive usage of water.

The water problems of China and India are quite complex, being characterized by the widening gap between demand and supplies on the one hand, and spatial imbalance in the supplies and demand for water, growing competition for water, and increasing pollution on the other. The growing problems of water scarcity and deterioration of water quality pose major challenges for the sustenance of agricultural production and improvement of food security in the two countries. The difficulties associated with achieving food security through agricultural production in China and India, however, do not stem solely from a ‘mere’ water crisis, but also from a land crisis. Both countries, in fact, are characterized by (i) diverse, yet distinct agro-climatic conditions, (ii) presence of both water-scarce and land-scarce (but water-rich) areas, (iii) availability of extensive irrigation infrastructure, and (iv) groundwater depletion. While the problems would appear to be largely similar, the solutions pursued by each country are strikingly different, potentially due to different opportunities deriving from the specific political situation and technological capabilities of China and India, separately, and their unique climatic conditions.

The strategies adopted by China and India to manage their respective water resources to increase agricultural production and achieve food security has implications not only at the national level, but also internationally. In fact, for example, Sub-Saharan Africa, which has very limited experience with irrigation water management, and other food-insecure regions such as South Asia, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, which are highly agrarian, can learn a great deal from the experience of China and India in pursuing the often-contrasting strategies for addressing the challenge of food security and sustainable agriculture. The Chinese and Indian experiences are representative of what strategies have the potential to work under different political scenarios. Yet, to date, there is no systematic attempt to assess water management approaches for agricultural growth and food security in these countries, their successes, and failures.

This Research Topic will (i) examine the role that irrigation plays in ensuring future food security and agricultural sustainability in India and China, two countries presenting distinct agro-climatic and hydro-meteorological conditions; (ii) discuss the past, current, and future strategies of the two countries to achieve water supply augmentation, water and energy demand management in agriculture, and reuse of wastewater through infrastructure and institutions creation, as well as through policies and laws; and (iii) examine the effectiveness of said strategies in terms of balancing water demand with available supplies, improving food security and sustaining agricultural growth, and ensuring sustainability of the resource base.

Each article will systematically cover issues relevant to both China and India while dealing with a particular issue, be it development of irrigation infrastructure, management of water-energy and water-food nexus, crop productivity growth, agricultural water productivity improvements, strategies for water saving in agriculture, water sector reforms, and concerns with implementation of paradigms such as virtual water trade.


Keywords: irrigation water management, agricultural growth, food security, India, China, agricultural sustainability, irrigation, water demand, water supply


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The value of agricultural outputs in China and India, the two most populous countries, has been growing remarkably over the past five decades to meet the growing demand for food, changing consumption patterns, and economic needs of an ever-increasing population.

The growing demand for food and agricultural commodities has direct implications for water usage. In China, a substantial part of available water resources is invested into the poultry sector, whilst in India it is the dairy sector which accounts for the greatest usage of water. Despite the drastic increase in water demand for both domestic and environmental purposes, e.g. watering of parks and gardens – practices which significantly reduce availability of water for agricultural use – China has been able to manage its irrigation demand through improvements of crop water productivity. In India, on the other hand, the increasing water demand for irrigation purposes is met, in water-scarce regions, through over-appropriation of surface water and aquifer mining. However, as scope for augmenting supplies is severely limited in both countries, it is imperative that successful water management for increased food production and sustained agricultural growth is achieved through a smarter and more productive usage of water.

The water problems of China and India are quite complex, being characterized by the widening gap between demand and supplies on the one hand, and spatial imbalance in the supplies and demand for water, growing competition for water, and increasing pollution on the other. The growing problems of water scarcity and deterioration of water quality pose major challenges for the sustenance of agricultural production and improvement of food security in the two countries. The difficulties associated with achieving food security through agricultural production in China and India, however, do not stem solely from a ‘mere’ water crisis, but also from a land crisis. Both countries, in fact, are characterized by (i) diverse, yet distinct agro-climatic conditions, (ii) presence of both water-scarce and land-scarce (but water-rich) areas, (iii) availability of extensive irrigation infrastructure, and (iv) groundwater depletion. While the problems would appear to be largely similar, the solutions pursued by each country are strikingly different, potentially due to different opportunities deriving from the specific political situation and technological capabilities of China and India, separately, and their unique climatic conditions.

The strategies adopted by China and India to manage their respective water resources to increase agricultural production and achieve food security has implications not only at the national level, but also internationally. In fact, for example, Sub-Saharan Africa, which has very limited experience with irrigation water management, and other food-insecure regions such as South Asia, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, which are highly agrarian, can learn a great deal from the experience of China and India in pursuing the often-contrasting strategies for addressing the challenge of food security and sustainable agriculture. The Chinese and Indian experiences are representative of what strategies have the potential to work under different political scenarios. Yet, to date, there is no systematic attempt to assess water management approaches for agricultural growth and food security in these countries, their successes, and failures.

This Research Topic will (i) examine the role that irrigation plays in ensuring future food security and agricultural sustainability in India and China, two countries presenting distinct agro-climatic and hydro-meteorological conditions; (ii) discuss the past, current, and future strategies of the two countries to achieve water supply augmentation, water and energy demand management in agriculture, and reuse of wastewater through infrastructure and institutions creation, as well as through policies and laws; and (iii) examine the effectiveness of said strategies in terms of balancing water demand with available supplies, improving food security and sustaining agricultural growth, and ensuring sustainability of the resource base.

Each article will systematically cover issues relevant to both China and India while dealing with a particular issue, be it development of irrigation infrastructure, management of water-energy and water-food nexus, crop productivity growth, agricultural water productivity improvements, strategies for water saving in agriculture, water sector reforms, and concerns with implementation of paradigms such as virtual water trade.


Keywords: irrigation water management, agricultural growth, food security, India, China, agricultural sustainability, irrigation, water demand, water supply


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2021 Abstract
14 December 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2021 Abstract
14 December 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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