Sustainable use of water resources in the face of population and economic growth is of great importance in northern China, as it is in much of the world. Rapid expansion of irrigated agricultural and urban demand is depleting groundwater and overexploiting surface water resources in northern China. Despite substantial investment in the development of water saving technology and the potential impact of widespread adoption, there has been little research on the extent of adoption in northern China or the conditions under which water saving technology is adopted. This paper uses data from two recent surveys in northern China to measure the extent of water saving technology adoption and to analyze the determinants of this adoption. The technologies we analyze include traditional technologies (border and furrow irrigation and field leveling), household level technologies (surface pipes, plastic film, drought resistant varieties and retain stubble low till), and community level technologies (underground pipe, lined surface canals and sprinklers). We find that levels of adoption of water saving technology in northern China have increased as water has become increasingly scarce. What is surprising, however, is that the extent of adoption is quite low. Moreover, both the rate and extent of adoption vary substantially across technologies. Of the different types of technologies, household-based technologies have grown most rapidly and traditional technologies have the highest rates of adoption. While we do not have a definitive answer why the adoption of these technologies are higher than other types, it appears that the most successful technologies have been those that are highly divisible, low cost and do not require collective action or large fixed investments. Technologies that do not fit this description are adopted on a limited scale, which we believe in part is due to the failure of policy makers to overcome the constraints to adoption. In addition, producers also fail to adopt water saving technologies because of the lack of strong incentives to save water, inadequate information, and difficulty overcoming collective action constraints. If the incentives and government-provided services can be delivered to those in water scarce areas, according to our paper there is a great deal of scope to conserve water and support China's agricultural sector despite tight water supplies.


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